Pack proves worth with win against UNC; earns promise of postseason
Posted November 25, 2016
NC State never trailed, beating North Carolina 28-21 in Friday's regular season finale.
The well-fought win improved the Pack to 6-6 (3-5 ACC) as the underdog surprised rival North Carolina (8-4, 5-3 ACC) and earned bowl eligibility. But having a place in the postseason wasn't what the victory was about to Dave Doeren's team, it was more about proving what the Pack could do.
"It's not about that, it's about these players an these coaches hanging together amidst a lot of heartbreaking days and negativity and doubt," Doeren said. "This has nothing to do with a bowl game -- was about mastering ourselves, finding a way to win and doing it against our rival."
NC State limited North Carolina beginning with the very first drive, forcing the Tar Heels to kick their first punt (of four in first half) from the Pack's 40-yard line. Then, the Wolfpack varied its offense on its first drive of the game.
Jalan McClendon took the second snap under center, connecting with Matt Dayes for 18 yards. Three plays later, Jaylen Samuels caught a backwards pass behind the line of scrimmage, then threw a 59-yard touchdown to Stephen Louis for a 7-0 lead.
"I actually thought I overthrew his at first, he made a great catch and great run," Samuels said. "Coach (Eliah) Drink(witz) told me it was going to be the fifth play (of the game). So I knew it was coming, I knew I could be the spark. (UNC) wasn't expecting me to throw the ball off a bubble."
Doeren called the play "a masterpiece," and the execution helped the Pack in the part of the game he thought they'd need it most.
"They're a great first quarter team," he said. "We thought if we could win the first quarter and then be physical the rest of the game after that, we thought we'd have a great chance to win."
UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky (23-for-38, 280 passing yards) fumbled the exchange on the first snap of his team's second drive. Bradley Chubb's recovery set up a second consecutive quick scoring drive and a 14-0 lead that stood at the end of the quarter.
Ryan Finley (11-for-18, 151 passing yards) threw his longest pass of the game to open NC State's first drive of the second quarter, then Matt Dayes carried four times and cashed in on fourth-and-one with an 18-yard score for a three-TD lead.
"(Our o-line) came out and dominated," Dayes said. "The (second down) before, (Dajaun Drennon) clothes lined me, so I tried to run hard on the next one.
"I don't know if (North Carolina) expected us to just come out and lay down for them or what, but we finished every run."
NC State's defense didn't allow North Carolina closer that its own 32-yard line in the first half as the home team's lone score came off a fumble recovery that started its drive at the Pack 33-yard line.
Samuels ended the second-half opening drive with a four-yard touchdown for a 28-7 lead, then Tar Heels gained steam.
UNC scored two unanswered touchdowns, opening the fourth quarter with a 45-yard pass play and scoring three snaps later then pulling within one touchdown on a 48-yard endzone strike with less than eight minutes to play.
The Tar Heels forced the Pack three-and-out on the next possession, but NC State did not relent. North Carolina's final drive stalled at midfield before the Wolfpack wound down the clock and the team from Raleigh showed the ability to close out in a way that it hasn't consistently this season.
"To come out here and beat them to go to a bowl game," safety Josh Jones said. "I felt like that was worth the while. I wouldn't say it erased the tough losses we had earlier in the season, but it sure did make it feel a lot better."
"We're playing every game but one with four quarters, toe-to-toe. We haven't won enough -- I agree -- but we are so much more competitive than we've ever been," Doeren said. "It definitely makes you feel the worth of all your work."