Now in his eighth season with NC State, Dave Doeren is the second longest permanent coach in school history. But until Saturday, his teams had never rallied to win a game after falling 10 or more points.
That changed after the Wolfpack saw Duke a 17-7 lead just before half-time, then roared from behind to win for the fourth time this season and the third time in as many weeks.
Despite everything in its power to give up play during a first half in which a point was blocked for a touchdown, the ball flipped over twice and eight penalties for 106 yards, State made its action in the last two periods for a 31-20 victory that catapulted it to the national rankings for the first time since 2018.
But not all news from the game was positive.
Here’s a look back at the good, the bad, and the unusual of a game many previous Wolfpack teams would have likely lost:
The Wolfpack could be in big trouble after self-destructing its offensive and special teams during the first 30 minutes on Saturday. But instead of falling hopelessly behind like rival North Carolina did in Florida State later that evening, State was able to stay in the fray for the performance of its defense. Led by linebackers Payton Wilson, Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas – who accounted for 42 tackles between them – the Wolfpack neutralized a Duke run that covered more than 300 meters in Syracuse the previous week, forced three turns and produced its third goal line is set in as many weeks while the Blue Devils were limited to just three points in the second half. A unit that started the season as a liability by giving up 45 and 42 points in the first two games has become a strength despite a spate of injuries that turned the secondary into what Doeren called ‘a revolving door’.
Despite all the mistakes of the first half, nothing that happened on Saturday was worse than what happened to Devin Leary. While Wolfpack was looking for a 21-20 lead late in the third half, the sophomore quarterback took off for a four-yard gain that knocked State a first time. As he started to descend into a slide, he was hit high by Duke safety Lummie Young – who led the way with his helmet and was ejected to aim. Initially, the concern was that Leary had suffered a concussion. But it soon became apparent that he was injuring his left leg, which shrank beneath him when he was hit. And the injury was serious. Leary was 14 out of 24 for 194 yards and a touchdown at the time. It was revealed on Sunday that he had a broken fibula that required surgery and will keep him sidelined for 4-8 weeks.
Both teams scored touchdowns on blocked kicks in the first half. Duke struck firstIsaiah Fisher-Smith got a piece of the kick from Trenton Gill, allowing teammate Dorian Mausi to pick it up and bring it back 32 yards for the score. State countered just before halftime when linebacker Vi Jones blocked his second kick in as many weeks, giving Max Fisher the chance to score and score from eight yards away. It was the first time in Wolfpack football history that both teams have scored in such a way and, according to ESPN.com, it marks the first time it has happened anywhere in college football since 2012.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Payton Wilson had a difficult task to follow this week after his older brother Bryse pitched six strong innings to win Game 4 of the National League Championship Series for the Atlanta Braves. But the redshirt second linebacker managed to combine his own standout performance against the Blue Devils. His 19 tackles were the most from a state defender since Earl Wolff had 19 against Clemson in 1992. He also had two interceptions and a half bag. He also found the time to tell his mom he loves this during a post game Zoom. If Wilson isn’t the ACC’s Linebacker of the Week, they should stop handing out the prize.
Isaac Duffy is a former Walkon who has earned a scholarship for his work on special teams. On Saturday, however, the sophomore cornerback was hired when starter Shyheim Battle was ejected for aiming early in the game. It was Duffy’s first move from scrimmage and of course the Blue Devils decided to try and get him. But the former Clayton High Comet was up to the task. He got four tackles and a team-leading two pass-break-ups, while earning praise from Doeren after the game.
STATE OF THE GAME
The Wolfpack had three interceptions in the game, two by Wilson and one by second reserve linebacker Jaylon Scott. Combined with the interceptions by Battle, Joshua Pierrie-Louis and Alim McNeill in the win in Virginia, it marked the first time since 2015 that the state defense has made three passes in consecutive games. That year, the Wolfpack defense got three interceptions each against Boston College and Florida State.By the way, Wilson became the first defender of the state with two picks in a game since Jerod Fernandez faced the top-ranked Florida State in 2014.
REPORTING OF INJURY
Leary is clearly the great one. But he wasn’t the only protagonist to go down with what appeared to be a serious injury. Junior safety Tanner Ingle, who missed the Virginia Tech game with a hamstring injury and was on the ground multiple times in the Pittsburgh game with various ailments, appeared to aggravate his hamstring again and did not return in the game. It could be tricky for an already meager secondary if Ingle is sidelined for an extended period of time, with both Rakeim Ashford and Khalid Martin already ready for the year. The situation on the attack line is almost as bad. Not only did Justin Witt miss his third game in a row on Saturday and backup Timothy McKay missed his second due to injury, but State’s other tackle, Tyrone Riley, left the game with what appeared to be a leg problem.
THEY SAY IT
‘I feel that this team is a close-knit team because we have experienced so many setbacks together. We’ve seen people make fun of our teams by saying we’re not going to win any ACC games this year. They did a little talk show (on the ACC network) about whether we would win an ACC game. That certainly feeds us. That brings us closer together. We have a chip on our shoulder every time we go out. This year I can see it in our eyes. I can tell from the way we play. ” Junior recipient Thayer Thomas
“When we went into halftime, we were just frustrated with what was going on because we were hurting ourselves. We were in the locker room telling each other to fix this. We had only defeated ourselves. We went into halftime with a 0-0 stance., and we came out and did what we normally do. ” Junior walks back Ricky Person Jr.
With wins against both Wake Forest and Duke already in their pocket, the 22nd-ranked Wolfpack can complete the Big Four sweep and take the mythical state championship next Saturday with a win against No. 13 North Carolina. The Tar Heels come off their first loss of the season, losing 31-28 to Florida State. Playing time at Kenan Stadium is 12:00 noon.
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