RALEIGH, N.C. – If there was any day that a miracle could take place, it was on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium when the N.C. State Wolfpack hosted the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Playing only their second all-time match-up against one another as part of the facility’s 50th anniversary celebration, both teams endured four hours of constant rain and sustained winds of 20-plus miles per hour until the Wolfpack (4-1) rose as the 10-3 victor over the Fighting Irish (2-4).
Led by a field goal from placekicker Kyle Bambard (1-2 FG) and a touchdown return off a blocked punt from Dexter Wright, N.C. State’s defense limited Notre Dame to a lone field goal from Justin Yoon to earn the win.
“A lot of people stepped up in this game,” Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren said.
“Defensively, I thought they played outstanding. The way they just kept bowin’ up and stopping them on third downs and fourth downs. Just a great team win and really proud of them and puts us in a key spot, continuing to build momentum as we move forward.”
Highlights: N.C. State 10, Notre Dame 3 (ACC Digital Network, TheACC.com)
Bradley Chubb, Kentavius Street, and Riley Nicholson were keys on defense as they sacked Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer (9-26, 54 yards) five times while he threw one interception as well.
The field conditions were so sloppy that both teams combined for 216 yards rushing on 89 total rushes, and kept passing attempts (40 combined for 95 total yards) to a minimum while battling for field position on the ground.
Quarterbacks Ryan Finley (5-12, 27 yards) and Jalan McClendon (2-2, 14 yards/10 rushes, 54 yards) worked to put the Wolfpack in position as best possible under such adverse conditions.
The key to winning the game was limiting turnovers and capitalizing on the opportunities made available – an advantage that eventually turned to N.C. State’s favor.
While the Wolfpack fumbled the ball six times compared to four drops committed by the Fighting Irish, it was Pharoah McKever’s block on Tyler Newsome’s punt early in the fourth quarter that gave the Wolfpack the opportunity it needed to break a 3-3 tie.
“Pharoah obviously found a way to make a play for us there on the punt block,” Doeren said.
“It was a return call and we had three guys rushin’ and then Dexter Wright makes a huge scoop-and- score touchdown.”
Though not scoring, running back Matt Dayes was the main driver of the Wolfpack offense as he carried the ball 23 times for 126 yards while fullback Jaylen Samuels picked up 22 yards on four carries.
Every yard counted in this game.
“Tough conditions to play in, but boy was it fun,” Doeren said.
“That’s what I told the guys before the game – when we were little kids, we couldn’t wait to go play in the mud. That’s what boys do. So, we had the chance to play in the mud today and we were thankful for that opportunity and how they handled it…To me, it’s just focus and wanting to win. I think our guys really, really wanted to win that game, and we found a way to win.”
Notre Dame went three-and-out on its first possession, fighting to get through a smothering N.C. State defense.
State put together an 11-play drive that could only slog through 37 yards, but ended with a missed field goal attempt from Bambard from 31 yards out.
The Wolfpack defense held strong and didn’t allow the Irish offense to progress past the State 37-yard-line as play progressed into the 11th minute of play.
Bambard made good on his next attempt and booted a 38-yarder to put the Wolfpack ahead 3-0 with 1:24 to go in the quarter.
Fumbles were the result of poor possession by both teams as field conditions got worse.
By the 10-minute mark of the second, each team had dropped the ball twice and had come up with a recovery apiece.
A third fumble by the Wolfpack’s Nyheim Hines (2 catches, 8 yards) on a rush put the Fighting Irish at the N.C. State 23-yard line.
Notre Dame continued to struggle offensively, committing two false starts and unable to capitalize on converted down gains.
After Kizer was sacked for a loss of eight yards, he threw an interception that Jarius Morehead picked off deep in the red zone and returned for 25 yards that put the Wolfpack at its own 26.
Each team traded a possession, and a 28-yard rush from Dayes eventually carried N.C. State into the Notre Dame half of the field.
An incomplete fourth-and-five down eventually gave the ball back to the Fighting Irish with 55 seconds remaining in the half.
But nothing came of it.
The Wolfpack carried its 3-0 lead into the halftime break.
Following a lightning delay that pushed back the beginning of the third quarter almost an hour, Notre Dame took advantage of playing with the wind and rain to its back to set Yoon up to attempt a 40-yard kick.
Yoon’s attempt was good and tied the game 3-3 at the 11:04 mark.
N.C. State’s next possession resulted in a fumble, but an opportunity gained was lost as Kizer couldn’t complete a pass after being sacked by Street.
The Fighting Irish gave the ball back to the Wolfpack after failing to move the chains on fourth-and-12, a possession that looked to set up the next score of the game.
McClendon came in and carried N.C. State’s offense up field from its own 27-yard line.
While handing off to Dayes intermittently, rushing gains of 20 and 16 yards from McClendon eventually put the Wolfpack into the red zone.
However, a miscue by Finley on a pitch-back intended for Jerod Fernandez put N.C. State back to the Notre Dame 18-yard line.
The subsequent attempted field goal attempt by Bambard was fumbled off the snap and the Fighting Irish got the ball back on their own 25-yard line.
N.C. State’s defense was successful and forced another punt from Newsome.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the score was still tied 3-3.
The Wolfpack made its move early in the period.
McKeever blocked Newsome’s punt deep in the Notre Dame half of the field and Wright picked it up and carried it 16 yards into the end zone.
N.C. State led 10-3 with 12:43 to go.
It was an advantage the Wolfpack would eventually keep for the remainder of the contest.
A fumble by Kizer on Notre Dame’s ensuing possession was recovered by B.J. Hill (4 tackles) and gave N.C. State the ball on its own 49-yard line.
Notre Dame then put together its best offensive sequence of the game.
Kizer used a combination of quick route passes and keepers to advance the ball to the Wolfpack 15-yard line, but was faced with fourth-and-eight with 2:01 on the clock.
Following a timeout, a missed snap by Kizer resulted in a loss and gave the ball back to N.C. State with 2:01 remaining.
From there, McClendon worked the clock down on each snap and continued to gain yards until he took a knee with 15 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Wolfpack.