DURHAM, N.C. -- Mataeo Durant ran for three first-half touchdowns and quarterback Gunnar Holmberg finished with a pair of scoring runs as Duke beat North Carolina A&T 45-17 on Friday night
The Blue Devils (1-1) broke a tie in the waning seconds of the first half on the way to only their fourth victory in their last 19 games stretching back to October 2019.
"The second half I thought we played with a better intensity level," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
Durant, who has six touchdowns this season, didn't have nearly the success as the week earlier when he racked up a school record 255 rushing yards in a loss at Charlotte. Instead, he posted 41 yards on 15 carries.
Holmberg, making a start in a home game for the first time, scored on runs of 1 and 9 yards. He was 20-for-27 for 270 yards through the air.
"The best pass defense is a pass rush," N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington said. "We had no pressure on the quarterback."
Aggies quarterback Kingsley Ifedi scored on two first-half runs. He ended up as the game's top rusher by gaining 83 yards on 15 attempts.
N.C. A&T (0-2) used a 20-play drive that covered 86 yards and consumed more than 12 minutes in the first quarter to score first on Ifedi's 1-yard run.
Duke went ahead for good on Durant's 2-yard rush with three seconds left in the first half.
There were no turnovers in the game, though Duke recovered an onside kick following its first touchdown. That helped the Blue Devils score 14 points in an 81-second span.
"We take a lot of pride in our special teams," Holmberg said. "It's a great momentum thing when we're able to recover an onside kick like that."
It was a similar score to Duke's 45-13 victory against N.C. A&T early in the 2019 season in the first meeting in the series.
This marks the Aggies' first season as members of the Big South Conference after leaving the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
"Slow beginnings, but I'm expecting a strong finish," Washington said.
Cutcliffe said he prepared his team throughout the week to use an onside kick and it proved to be a good move.
"I've learned over the years that if you don't plan to do it, you won't do it," the veteran coach said.
There was another gamble at the end of the first half. The Blue Devils, who were out of timeouts, could have settled for a field goal or a quick pass play when the ball was snapped with 6 seconds left. Instead, it was a hand-off to Durant, who barely made it into the end zone.
"Everything in my heart tells me we have to be an aggressive program," Cutcliffe said. "Let's go with Mataeo. I thought, 'We'll run Mataeo and he'll score.' ... We were going to play aggressive. We weren't going to play safe."
After Duke's defense was tagged for 478 total yards in the 31-28 loss to Charlotte in the opener, the coaching staff made improving tackling one of the priorities.
Linebacker Shaka Heyward must have been paying attention. He was credited with taking part in 16 tackles against N.C. A&T.
"On our end, we have to be better tacklers," Heyward said. "I would stay tackling was definitely a big emphasis after the Charlotte game."
The Aggies went with Ifedi at quarterback after Game 1 starter Jalen Fowler was feeling the after-effects of a big hit he absorbed in Saturday's loss at Furman.
"It seemed to just have gotten worse," Washington said of Fowler's ailment.
Fowler and Ifedi are listed as redshirt juniors. Neither had a career start entering the season.
Now Ifedi has a solid outing to his credit.
"He came in and did exactly what we thought he was capable of doing," Washington said.
Four of the Blue Devils' last six victories in home games have come against in-state opponents. The Aggies have been the victims in two of those outcomes.
Duke will host Northwestern next week. NC A&T will next host rival North Carolina Central in the Aggies' home opener on Sept. 25.
Durant helps Duke run past NC A&T 45-17
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