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.