RALEIGH — N.C. State found a quarterback, then lost him but still won the game.
Dave Doeren’s coaching debut featured four quarterbacks, three touchdown runs by freshman Matt Dayes and one pair of crutches in a 40-14 rout of Louisiana Tech on Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Quarterback Brandon Mitchell injected the Wolfpack’s season with optimism and energy, leading State to a pair of touchdowns on the first two drives of the season, but then tempered the excitement of Saturday’s win with a significant injury.
Mitchell, the graduate transfer from Arkansas, broke a bone in his left foot and will be out the next four to six weeks. He watched the second half with a walking boot on his foot while leaning on crutches.
The Wolfpack offense, which finished 527 total yards, didn’t quite hum the same way without Mitchell, who finished with 67 passing yards (3 of 3) and 19 rushing yards on five carries.
Doeren used a combination of junior Pete Thomas, freshman Bryant Shirreffs and freshman Josh Taylor after Mitchell was sidelined with about 6 minutes left in the first quarter.
“We used four quarterbacks, that was something I didn’t plan on, but it worked pretty good for us,” Doeren said.
Dayes, one of 11 true freshmen who played Saturday, did the heavy lifting with three touchdown runs and 84 yards on 17 carries. The Wolfpack finished with 237 rushing yards, which was more than it had against any Division I-A team last season.
Doeren promised the team would run more and go faster, using a no-huddle scheme. With Mitchell, the first two series were nearly flawless.
The Pack covered 65 yards in seven plays on the opening drive, which was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Tony Creecy.
After the defense, which helped with three forced turnovers, held Louisiana Tech to a three-and-out, Mitchell found receiver Rashard Smith (110 total yards) on a 56-yard pass.
Dayes, a true freshman from south Florida, punched in the first of his three scores from 2 yards for the 14-0 lead.
Little could have gone better for Doeren’s first game at that point. Then Mitchell was stopped on consecutive running attempts. Officially, linebacker Daniel Cobb stopped Mitchell on third-and-1 from the State 45-yard line. Mitchell, who’s 6-4 and 239 pounds and not built like a typical quarterback, didn’t linger on the field after the hit but he knew something was wrong.
He was taken back to the locker room for x-rays and emerged later with the crutches in the tunnel. Doeren said Mitchell will have surgery on Sunday.
“They’ll go in tomorrow and fix it and hopefully we’ll have him back sooner than later,” Doeren said.
Thomas, a transfer from Colorado State who sat out last season, completed 15 of 27 passes for 212 yards with an interception.
“Brandon was playing great up until he got hurt,” Thomas said. “When he went down, I felt like I was well prepared.”
“I just went out there and tried to do my job and I didn’t try to do too much.”
With a 17-0 lead, Thomas was picked off by defensive end IK Enemkpali near the goal line but Enemkpali fumbled the ball on the return at State’s 21 yard line.
Louisiana Tech, which lost 32 seniors and their coach from last year’s 9-3 team, fumbled the ball eight times in 12 games last season but lost four fumbles on Saturday.
Thomas actually recovered Enemkpali’s fumble to get the ball back for the offense. With the second chance, and after two runs by Shirreffs, Dayes ran in his second touchdown to extend the Pack’s lead to 24-0.
The Bulldogs briefly got back into the game with Kenneth Dixon’s 12-yard TD run at 14:06 in the fourth quarter but Nik Sade hit two of his four field goals in the fourth quarter and Dayes added an 18-yard TD run with 7:13 left.
In the end, the players stayed positive about the win despite the loss of Mitchell.
“It was great start for the team, a great win,” senior linebacker D.J. Green said.