RALEIGH, North Carolina (Ticker) -- It was much tougher than expected, but North Carolina State did just enough to match the best start in school history.
Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes, including a 53-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery with 2:52 remaining, as the 10th-ranked Wolfpack held off Duke, 24-22, in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest.
North Carolina State (8-0, 3-0 ACC) has won its first eight games for just the second time in school history. The Wolfpack's only other 8-0 start came in 1967, when current coach Chuck Amato was a senior linebacker. That team was ranked as high as third before losing to Penn State and finished second in the ACC at 9-2.
"I told our team yesterday that you're going to have adversity hit you," Amato said. "I told them that they would have to win a close game. Miami did it last week against Florida State. Texas and Oklahoma did it two weeks ago. Now our kids are one of two teams to be 8-0 at this school."
The current Wolfpack could be pointing toward a showdown with Florida State to decide the ACC title. If North Carolina State does not slip over the next month, it could be 12-0 heading into its regular-season finale against the Seminoles on November 23.
But the Wolfpack were not especially impressive against Duke and the narrow win will do little to silence criticism that North Carolina State is overrated and has benefited from a favorable schedule that includes two wins over Division I-AA teams.
The Wolfpack allowed Duke to climb back into the game after opening a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Rivers' six-yard run and 53-yard TD strike to Sterling Hicks. The nation's top-ranked quarterback, Rivers was 26-for-37 for 364 yards.
But Duke (2-6, 0-3) battled back from a 17-0 deficit and could have tied it if not for a failed two-point conversion pass after a 41-yard run by Chris Douglas made it 17-12 with 1:17 left in the third period.
Duke closed to 17-15 on Brent Garber's third field goal of the game, a 45-yarder 4:19 into the final period.
Following a punt, the Wolfpack finally put away the game, marching 74 yards on just four plays and taking a nine-point lead on Rivers' TD strike to Cotchery.
With North Carolina State in a prevent defense, the Blue Devils got a late score on Adam Smith's 40-yard pass to Khary Sharpe with 16 seconds remaining. Smith completed 28-of-41 passes for 353 yards.
Duke recovered the ensuing onside kick at its 48, but the Blue Devils' hopes ended following four straight incomplete passes.
"We just had to hold them to a minimum (after the recovery)," Amato said. "We went after them. We played a zone blitz. We didn't want them to get close because that kid (Garber) has a strong leg."
North Carolina State appeared in control after taking a 17-0 lead on Austin Hebert's 23-yard field goal with 4:38 left in the second quarter.
The Wolfpack were held to 63 yards on the ground, with freshman T.A. McLendon rushing for only 50 on 16 carries.
Duke gained some momentum on Garber's 47-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. He converted a 52-yarder 4:41 into the third quarter to make it 17-6.
The Blue Devils suffered their 21st straight ACC loss and have not won in the conference since defeating Wake Forest in 1998.
"We missed some early opportunities to score," Duke coach Carl Franks said. "We had the right plays and the people in the right places, we just couldn't finish it. We planned on scoring early because we knew they were successful doing that."
North Carolina State, which has only four days to prepare for Thursday's contest against Georgia Tech, has won nine straight against Duke to cut the Blue Devils' lead in the all-time series to 39-34-5.