Kelvin Harmon

Associated Press

No. 4 Clemson survives road scare at No. 20 NC State

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No. 4 Clemson was forced to defend its ACC and national championships from practically the first play of its visit to Raleigh until literally the last. But defend it they did, as the Tigers survived a visit to No. 20 NC State with a 38-31 win.

NC State opened the game on fire, intercepting Kelly Bryant (191 passing yards, 88 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) inside Clemson territory, which Ryan Finley turned into a 40-yard scoring connection to Kelvin Harmon. After the Tigers pulled even on a 77-yard punt return score by Ray Ray McCloud, NC State again claimed a touchdown lead on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard Jaylen Samuels run.

Clemson again pulled even with a long drive of its own as Bryant punctuated a 12-play, 71-yard march with a 10-yard keeper. Again, though, NC State responded, this time with a 75-yard march that ended on a 7-yard strike from Finley to Samuels with 9:29 left before halftime.

The Tigers could not hold serve on their next possession, instead ending a 68-yard drive with a 26-yard Alex Spence field goal. NC State blew a chance to take a touchdown lead before the break when Carson Wise missed 34-yard field goal. Clemson moved in position to take a halftime lead, moving to the NC State 22-yard line with under 10 seconds to go, but Bryant’s final two passes fell incomplete and NC State head coach Dave Doeren successfully froze Spence into missing a 39-yard field goal as time expired at the half.

That miss sent Clemson into a halftime in which it trailed 21-17 at halftime on the road against a ranked conference opponent, and that opponent would get the ball to open the second half.

Simply put, it was gut check time for Clemson’s ACC and national championship hopes, and Clemson responded with a check right into NC State’s gut.

The Tigers took the lead on a 12-yard strike from Bryant to Deon Cain, then closed the quarter (literally) on an 89-yard burst from Tavien Feaster, the club’s longest play from scrimmage to date this season. 

Any control Clemson had over the game evaporated on NC State’s next possession, as the Wolfpack sliced down the field with a 6-play, 65-yard drive. Finley fired his third touchdown pass of the day, a 15-yarder to Jakobi Meyers, to pull NC State within 31-28 with 12:23 to play. The Wolfpack had a chance to force a turnover on downs and get the ball back with the chance to take the lead on a touchdown in forcing a 4th-and-5 at the NC State 22 with 8:16 to play, but Bryant found CFP Championship hero Hunter Renfrow for a 16-yard connection. Bryant danced in from one yard out three plays later, handing Clemson a 38-28 advantage with 6:31 to play.

However, NC State once again answered with a gut check of its own. The Pack moved 81 yards to set up a 22-yard Kyle Bambard field goal with 1:51 to play, then used its three timeouts to force an immediate Clemson punt, handing NC State the ball at its own 20 with 80 seconds to force overtime.

Finley (31-of-50 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, eight caries for 35 yards) moved NC State to the Clemson 28 and momentarily put the ball inside the Clemson 5-yard line, but an illegal shift penalty negated a long completion, and his final pass was intercepted.

The win all but clinches a third straight ACC Atlantic championship for Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC), needing only to beat Florida State to clinch the division. Should the Tigers lose, NC State (6-3, 4-1 ACC) still find itself in prime position to steal the division title.

NC State looking for statement vs. Clemson, clinging to 21-17 lead at halftime

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With first place in the ACC Atlantic Divison on the line, NC State is leading the defending national champions by four points at halftime. Up 21-17 at halftime in Raleigh, the Wolfpack will have to be ready to find a way to finish this game on a strong note against Clemson.

NC State got the party started early with Tim Kidd-Glass coming up with an interception of Kelly Bryant on the third play of the game. Setting up the Wolfpack offense at the Clemson 40-yard line, NC State wasted no time taking advantage of the early turnover. Ryan Finley completed a 40-yard pass for a touchdown to Kelvin Harmon for the early 7-0 lead. Clemson’s offense could not get much going on their next possession and ended a five-play drive with a punt, but the Tigers defense came through with a quick three-and-out. It was at this point Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud ripped off an impressive 77-yard punt return for a touchdown to even things at 7-7.

NC State and Clemson then exchanged 12-play touchdown drives to keep things even at 14-14. NC State responded once more with another strong touchdown drive with Finley finding plenty of success through the air. The drive ended with a touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels to go up 21-14. Clemson cut into the lead with a field goal. The Tigers added another field goal in the final seconds as the teams went to the locker room at halftime to create the one-point game. NC State had missed a field goal on their final possession of the half.

The winner of this game will take first place in the ACC Atlantic Division, which likely means the winner of this game will end up playing for the ACC championship. For Clemson, the fourth team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, the stakes are a bit higher at the moment as well. There has never been a two-loss conference champion in the four-team playoff. Of course, NC State is hoping to become the first as well.

No. 9 Notre Dame holds the lead at halftime in tight one with No. 14 N.C. State

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Saturday was quite the opportunity for teams to leave a lasting impression on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee prior to their first set of rankings being released next week. Based on how the first half went in South Bend, safe to say both No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 14 N.C. State are both firmly in the mix for a top 10 spot after a fun back-and-forth effort between the two teams that put memories of last year’s meeting far out of anybody’s mind.

The Irish managed to hold onto a 21-14 lead going into the locker room when all was said and done, but there was a lot going on for both sides in a half filled with big plays.

James Smith-Williams blocked a punt for the Wolfpack’s first points of the game, which was fitting given how dominant their defense was early. Bradley Chubb (four tackles, one sack) was nearly unblockable despite that fearsome Irish offensive line, getting into the backfield on nearly every snap.

Notre Dame responded every time they were threatened however, signaling this one would be a dogfight for both sidelines. QB Brandon Wimbush quickly threw a touchdown pass on the next drive and finished with 80 yards through the air and three total scores in the half. Tailback Josh Adams was held out of the end zone but was the typical workhorse between the 20’s, doing his best to keep pace with Saquon Barkley and Bryce Love in the Heisman race by racking up 102 yards on the ground against one of the best rush defenses in the country.

Despite losing running back Nyheim Hines to a leg injury — he was “questionable to return” after going to the locker room in the first quarter — the Wolfpack continued to move the ball offensively. They marched 71 yards in just seven plays to open the second quarter before signal-caller Ryan Finley (122 yards passing in the half) found Kelvin Harmon in the corner of the end zone, where the latter made a terrific one-handed touchdown catch. The normally productive all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels wasn’t quite as involved in the game as he usually is but with others stepping up for State, it wasn’t quite as big of a deal as it could be for the team in the second half.

There’s a lot going on at the moment in college football but the best game of the bunch in this TV window seems like it has been at Notre Dame Stadium. Neither team is running away with things after two quarters — which bodes well for a second half that could be just as fun to watch as the first.

No. 24 N.C. State slips past No. 17 Louisville to upset Lamar Jackson and company

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It was a rough film session for North Carolina State last season after the team played Louisville, as Dave Doeren’s coaching staff had to watch the eventual Heisman Trophy winner race up and down the field on the Wolfpack’s defense in a blowout to capture a key ACC win. Turnabout is fair play it seems because State did much of the same on Thursday night, pulling away at home starting in the second quarter and eventually winding up with a 39-25 victory that makes things even more interesting in the Atlantic division.

The Wolfpack offense stalled out early during the first quarter, including a red zone fumble in front of an amped up crowd at Carter-Finley Stadium, but promptly figured things out and sliced and diced the Cardinals’ defense on their following six drives to take control of the game. Quarterback Ryan Finley outplayed the Heisman winner on the opposite sideline with a steady performance, throwing for 367 yards and a touchdown, while big play machines Nyheim Hines (225 all-purpose yards with two scores) and Jaylen Samuels (104 through the air) both were terrific in the open field. Wideout Kelvin Harmon chipped in with 133 yards and a touchdown catch as well.

As well as the offense played however, the home team never could quite put the game away until late in the fourth quarter. Of course, a lot of that had to do with the dazzling play of Lamar Jackson. The signal-caller recorded a 354 yard (one touchdown) night using his arm and not surprisingly led the team in rushing with 73 yards and two scores. He was very much a one-man band for his team given the defensive woes and played heroically in the face of a lot of pressure from the Wolfpack’s stellar defensive line that helped record four sacks and played a role in forcing a pass that was tipped, intercepted and run back for a touchdown that iced the game.

The victory, one of the biggest of Doeren’s career in Raleigh given the circumstances, presents an intriguing road to the division title as the Wolfpack remain undefeated in ACC play. While No. 2 Clemson remains a favorite to return to the national title game at the moment, N.C. State did nearly pull off the upset of the Tigers last year and host this year’s meeting on November 4th. That game could not only decide the Atlantic Division in the conference, but could play a significant role in the College Football Playoff selection process as well.

But those are thoughts for another day and another week as Thursday night belonged to the Wolfpack as they savored a very sweet victory over the Cardinals.

No. 24 N.C. State leading No. 17 Louisville at halftime of ACC clash

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Oh what a difference a year makes for N.C. State and Louisville.

After a lopsided result that was not in their favor last season, the 24th-ranked Wolfpack are giving No. 17 Louisville everything they can handle on both sides of the ball to lead 17-10 at halftime of an intriguing ACC battle down in Raleigh.

Neither team could get much going offensively in the first quarter, with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson being well contained by that tough NCSU defensive line led by Bradley Chubb. Once the clock ticked over to the second quarter however, both offenses started to get going with some big plays.

Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley (268 yards, one touchdown) kicked things off, lobbing a perfectly thrown pass into the waiting arms of Kelvin Harmon for a 48-yard touchdown. State tacked on a field goal on their ensuing possession following a 79 yard catch and run by superstar all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels and then scored again just before the break. We’ll see if the team can keep that second quarter momentum up despite losing starting center Garrett Bradbury with a chest injury but their final two drives without him bodes well for them to do just that.

Jackson and the Cardinals also found a little bit of a rhythm in the second frame, as the dual-threat signal-caller racked up 190 yards through the air by halftime. He found Seth Dawkins for the team’s only touchdown early in the second quarter, which was a bobbling affair down near the end zone before the wideout hauled it in for the score.

There are a ton of major sporting events going on Thursday night but the lone college football game on the slate has turned out to be a pretty good one despite the relative low score. We’ll see if either side can make some big adjustments — especially defensively for the higher ranked team — in order to pull out a key win in the ACC Atlantic race.