A two-touchdown performance from Matt Dayes, who rushed 26 times for 104 yards, allowed the Wolfpack to even its record to 6-6 on the season, 3-5 in the ACC, while the Tar Heels’ loss all but took them out of consideration for repeating as Coastal Division champs, now sitting at 8-4 overall and 5-3 in league play.
“They are a great football team,” N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said of the Tar Heels.
“We knew they wouldn’t quit. We knew it would be a four-quarter game. They are a great first quarter team if you look and see how many points they have scored in the first quarter. We thought if we could win the first quarter and just be physical after that, then we would have a good chance to win and that is what we did.”
Quarterbacks Ryan Finley (11-18, 151 yards/4 rushes, 7 yards) and Jalan McClendon (2-5, 23 yards/7 carries, 42 yards) worked in tandem to keep the chains moving forward as Dayes, Stephen Lewis (4 catches, 124yards), and Jalen Samuels (3 carries, 15 yards/1-1, 59 yards) ran the ball across the goal line to claim the win over their Triangle-area rival.
“We practiced hard ,” Louis said.
“We just played how we needed to play – we just went out there and played. “
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky (23-38, 280 yards, 3 TD) was contained enough by the Wolfpack defense to limit touchdown production as well as sacking him twice.
Led by Jerod Fernandez (10 tackles, 1.5 TFL), Airius Moore (6 tackles, 1 PBuP) and Dravious Wright (6 tackles, 1 PBuP), N.C. State ensured to have multiple players on every available ball Trubisky put up or handed off.
“We wanted to stop the running game,” Wright said.
“That’s one thing we did pretty well and they started passing. Containing the running game and pass protection – that was one of the big key things for us.”
Trubisky still put up numbers as his touchdown throws tied the single-season school record as well as set the single-season record for passing yards at North Carolina with 3,468.
Scores from Ryan Switzer (13 catches, 171 yards), Thomas Jackson (1 catches, 7 yards), and Bug Howard (3 catches, 58 yards) pulled the Tar Heels closer, but not close enough to ever pull even or ahead.
Coming into the game, North Carolina had won three of the last four meetings, part of a 66-33-6 ledger between the two programs, but N.C. State claimed a 35-7 win on its last visit to Kenan in 2014.
The Wolfpack avenged their 45-34 loss to the Tar Heels at home last season and the two teams continued their pattern of trading wins on the road against one another in recent years.
“Tough loss today,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said.
“Bottom line is that we didn’t make enough of the ordinary plays that we usually make to win a football game. We just didn’t get it done.”
Highlights: N.C. State 28, UNC 21 – ACC Digital Network (TheACC.com)
State opened the scoring when Louis completed a 59-yard pitch-and-pass play.
Finley’s pitch to Samuels eventually turned into a pass attempt that found the receiver wide open.
A fumble by Trubisky on the ensuing Tar Heels possession put the Wolfpack in position to score again, starting at the North Carolina 29-yard line.
Dayes converted on the opportunity, running the ball in from four yards out and following Connor Haskins’ PAT, N.C. State led 14-0.
North Carolina struggled to get consistent offensive output with a result, while the Wolfpack’s receiving corps, led by Lewis, did more work.
He hauled in a 53-yard pass from Finley at the North Carolina 27-yard line.
From there, Dayes took and gave a pounding to eventually carry the ball into the end zone.
After Tar Heels end Dajuan Drennon nearly decapitated Dayes to stop an ensuing rush at the 19, the N.C. State workhorse literally plowed through and over North Carolina’s defensive line to extend the difference to 21 points with 10:33 to play in the opening half.
Down, but not out, North Carolina’s seventh-ranked rushing defense breathed new life into the offense.
A strip of Nyheim Hines by linebacker Andre Smith (14 tackles) and a recovery by cornerback M.J. Stewart put the Tar heels on the Wolfpack 33.
From there, Trubisky guided a five-play, 33-yard drive that was capped off by a four-yard pass to Switzer.
The touchdown reception cut the N.C. State advantage to 14 points, as North Carolina trailed 21-7.
Then things got interesting.
What looked like another Tar Heels fumble recovery following Dayes being stripped by Jeremiah Clarke (7 tackles) was eventually ruled an incomplete pass.
The ensuing multiple-player ball bobble-and-pickup sequence that ended at midfield looked to fall into North Carolina’s possession, and was followed by a bench-clearing melee in which multiple off-setting unsportsmanlike penalties were handed out.
The only ejection was assessed to UNC’s Jalen Dalton for throwing a punch amidst the huge scrum of players, coaches and officials.
It all seemed like part of a dream that had nightmarish elements as North Carolina couldn’t convert on the possession they eventually got following a 43-yard punt from A.J. Cole.
Getting the ball back with 5:10 to play, N.C. State worked the clock and advanced the ball to the Tar Heel nine-yard line, but Haskins couldn’t convert on a 26-yard field goal attempt.
State held its 21-7 lead at halftime.
Samuels extended the Wolfpack lead to 28-7 at the 8:22 mark of the third quarter when he ran the ball in from four yards out.
The start of the third quarter looked to play to the Tar Heels’ favor as they recovered a kickoff return fumble following Nick Weiler’s onside kick.
A penalty flag for an illegal block on the play caused a re-kick and negated any energy the potential possession provided the Tar Heels and the majority of the 59,000 in attendance.
Instead, Finley and McClendon orchestrated a 14-play, 85-yard drive that culminated in Samuels’ lone score of the day.
Carrying a 28-7 lead into the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack wasn’t able to slow, nor deny Trubisky from completing a 10-play, 93-yard drive with a pass to Jackson with 13:49 to play.
While it looked like the Wolfpack would coast to victory, Trubisky wasn’t done by any means.
He put up a 48-yard strike that landed in Howard’s arms in the end zone while in double coverage.
All of a sudden, the Tar Heels’ deficit sat at only seven with 7:52 to play.
The momentum continued to swing back in UNC’s favor as it took N.C. State just 59 seconds to punt the ball back.
Even after getting sacked for a loss of seven yards, Trubisky never wavered.
He rushed the ball and gained 16 yards and after getting hit out-of-bounds, an N.C. State penalty added 15 yards to the end of the run.
The ball sat on the Wolfpack 41.
The Tar Heels committed their own costly mistake, as a 10-yard holding penalty eventually put Trubisky in a tough spot at third down with 20 to go.
A missed pass attempt to Austin Proehl (1 catch, 22 yards) forced fourth down and another missed catch by Howard gave N.C. State the ball back with 3:10 remaining.
Faced with third-and-five, McClendon gained a first down inside the three-minute mark as the clock continued to count down.
Between McClendon and Dayes, the Wolfpack successfully held off the Tar Heels defense and protected the ball long enough to secure the win.
“I don’t know if surprised is the word,” Switzer said.
“They should have beat Clemson and Florida State. They had a lot of games they should have won. We knew they were a talented team coming in. So, I don’t know if surprised is the right word. Just hurt.”