12:00 PM ET, October 19, 2002
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Chuck Amato is now part of the two best starts in the history of North Carolina State football.
Philip Rivers threw for a season-high 364 yards and two touchdowns as the Wolfpack (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) beat Duke 24-22 Saturday to match the 1967 team at 8-0.
Jerricho Cotchery had seven catches for 185 yards and a TD for the Wolfpack.
Amato, in his third season as N.C. State's head coach, was a senior linebacker on that team 35 years ago.
"This isn't about Chuck Amato,'' he said. "That other team was so long ago, they don't even have snapshots of that stuff. This is about North Carolina State's football team and the university and those young men playing the game today.''
"I can't play the game today,'' Amato added. "Well, maybe a couple of snaps.''
Amato could joke 30 minutes after the game, but there were some tense moments for the Wolfpack against a team that was a 24-point underdog and lost its 21st straight conference game.
The two-point win, N.C. State's third straight in the ACC, came in front of scouts from the Fiesta and Sugar bowls.
"You look back on this game, and we won,'' Rivers said. "That's the No. 1 goal, whether it's 2-0 or whatever the score is. I think it helps you get better. Maybe it wakes you up a little bit and says, 'Yeah, we're ranked 13th,' but we've got to come every week and play our best to win every week.''
N.C. State went into the fourth quarter leading 17-12, with the home crowd restless and the entire team gathered around Amato for one last pep talk.
Amato's defense responded to his speech about playing with more intensity, sacking Duke quarterback Adam Smith three times in the final quarter as the Wolfpack matched the best start in the program's 111 years.
"As many years as they've had football here, and to be one of two to do it, it's great,'' Rivers said. "Now the goal is to be 9-0 and the only one ever.''
Rivers came through in the final five minutes, hitting Jerricho Cotchery down the right sideline for a 53-yard scoring play with 2:52 left.
Adam Smith threw a 40-yard TD pass with 16 seconds left to cap his 353-yard day, and Duke recovered an onside kick at the Wolfpack's 49. But after three incompletions, Brent Garber's 65-yard field goal attempt was more than 10 yards short. Garber's career-best is 56 yards and he's made some from 71 yards in practice.
"We went out there and the wind started blowing in my face,'' said Garber, whose 52-yarder earlier in the game was good by more than 10 yards. "That's a tough one. I'm not sure with that kind of wind I could hit it more than one out of 10 times.''
Rivers finished 26-for-37, but the Wolfpack, third in the nation in scoring at 43.7, were held to a season-low point total in beating Duke (2-6, 0-4) for the ninth straight time.
"Things like this are going to happen, but you know what, there was no nervousness on the sideline, no panic on the sideline, there was no flinching on the sideline,'' Amato said.
"To have a great year you are going to have those games. I hope we have no more, but I'll take five more. It's a happy time right now.''
Chris Douglas went up the middle for a 41-yard scoring run late in the third quarter, and Garber's 45-yarder with 10:41 pulled Duke to 17-15.
But after driving to N.C. State's 23 with the game hanging in the balance, Smith was sacked twice in a row to push Duke out of field-goal range. A series later, Smith was sacked on third down.
"We came out flat,'' senior linebacker Dantonio Burnette said. "We weren't getting the job done. We've got to correct that if we want to be a national championship-type of team or a contender.''
N.C. State played without three starters: Sean Berton (TE) sat out with a bad ankle, while Shawn Price (DE) and Greg Golden (DB) were suspended for violating team rules.
Rivers was almost intercepted on the first play from scrimmage, then he completed seven straight passes on the Wolfpack's opening 80-yard scoring drive, capping it with a 6-yard scramble. It was the seventh straight game N.C. State scored on its first possession.
Two big passing plays on Duke's next two possessions -- one for 44 yards and another for 36 -- were wasted when the Blue Devils failed to convert on a pair of fourth-down plays.
Smith was sacked on a fourth-and-1 at the 11, and Garber was thrown for a 14-yard loss 3½ minutes later on a fake field goal.
"I decided that before the game, so I'm not going to look back on it,'' Duke coach Carl Franks said. "Now you can say, `What if you kicked the field goal?' Who knows what the flow of the game would have been?