Lewis leading Duke to postseason possibilities

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

It was the kind of performance that will resonate for many years to come -- one that caught the attention of coaches throughout the ACC and couldn’t be ignored nationwide.

Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis completed 40 of 50 pass attempts -- something you probably couldn’t do in your backyard if you tried, let alone against a BCS-level defense, for 459 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-28 road win over NC State on Oct. 10.

“And we dropped some,” said wide receiver Austin Kelly. “He could’ve easily been 45 for 50 or 46 for 50. It’s one game I’ll remember for the rest of my life, that performance he had at NC State.”

While other talented quarterbacks and their fans throughout the country are clamoring for attention and awards, Lewis is quietly trying to achieve the one reward he desperately wants above all others -- a bowl invitation -- and he’s getting them closer. In the past three games, Lewis has thrown for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. The win over Maryland last weekend marked the first time since 1994 Duke has defeated back-to-back ACC opponents. This week, they head to Virginia in search of the next step toward reaching their postseason goal, which requires three more W’s.

“It would be huge, just because of all the adversity we faced being here at Duke, going 1-11, or 1-12 the last two years, but obviously battling back to turn this program around,” Lewis said. “It would be huge. With this being my last season, this is the start of building a program. I want to help contribute to getting these guys to a bowl game, to where they can get that experience and want to get there every year.”

This team wouldn’t even be close to bowl eligibility without Lewis. He has accounted for 17 of Duke’s 23 touchdowns this year. He has completed 64.1 percent of his passes (164 of 256) for 1,972 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions. He’s also rushed for three touchdowns. He’s the reason Duke leads the ACC in passing offense and ranks third in total offense. His career numbers rank him among the ACC’s best.

“He’s a special young man,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “It goes beyond what he does on the field for us. He’s a tremendous leader. Quarterbacks sometimes try to be leaders. Thad Lewis doesn’t have to try. People respond to him. He’s very spirited, even going back to camp, when he was so sick with the swine flu and had a significant ankle injury, he never lost his spirit. You wouldn’t believe how many times he tried to practice or tried to go through it and I had to just pull him out. I think his team saw that and his play right now is so consistent and so good. He’s a very talented young man. Guys on both sides of the ball feel like if we play well, Thad’s going to give us a chance to win games because he can make so many plays.”

A win over Virginia isn’t out of the question on Saturday, especially considering Duke started the 2008 ACC season with a 31-3 win at home against the Cavaliers. The Blue Devils’ defense forced six turnovers in the game and outscored the Cavaliers 28-0 after halftime.

If they’re going to do it again, though, they’ll have to continue to depend on Lewis.

“I feel like he’s the MVP of this team,” Kelly said. “I say that with confidence. I feel like the things he’s doing this year, it’s been amazing. It’s an honor to be a part of the same team as him.”

If Lewis keeps it up, they might be teammates for one extra game this year.