RALEIGH — Dave Doeren recruited Matt Dayes and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to play right away and help N.C. State this season.
Before Saturday’s 40-14 win over Louisiana Tech, the N.C. State coach pulled his two freshmen aside and challenged them.
“Here’s what you wanted, now do something with it,” Doeren told them.
Dayes, 5-foot-9 and 213 pounds, responded with three touchdowns and led the team with 84 rushing yards.
Valdes-Scantling, 6-3 and 201 pounds, caught four passes and led the team with 87 receiving yards.
“They’re 18-year-old true freshmen and they’re playing like they’re fourth-year seniors,” quarterback Pete Thomas said.
They were two of 11 true freshmen who played Saturday in their first college game. Doeren made no secret in training camp he would go young and see what he had on the roster.
That was evident when Valdes-Scantling split wide on the first play, instead of senior Quintin Payton or junior Bryan Underwood.
Dayes didn’t start, junior Tony Creecy did, but his reps went up without sophomore Shadrach Thornton, last year’s leading rusher who was suspended for the game for punishment for a June arrest.
Doeren was impressed with the duo’s numbers but also the way all the freshmen handled the pressure of the first game. Quarterbacks Bryant Shirreffs and Josh Taylor both played and neither flinched.
“The thing I was happy with was they weren’t rattled,” Doeren said. “That was the main thing. You never know if they’re going to get nervous.”
Nerves were no problem for Dayes, who Doeren complimented throughout training camp.
“It feels good, him talking me up like that, but I worked extremely hard so I feel like I got what I deserved,” Dayes said.
While the play of Dayes and the young receivers was expected, both Shirreffs and Taylor getting in the game was not.
Shirreffs had briefly moved from quarterback to linebacker earlier this month in practice before settling in at fullback.
“I don’t really remember (playing linebacker), there was a lot of hitting,” Shirreffs said.
He had an inkling he might play in some running situations on Saturday after he had worked in practice on certain plays. He ran nine times for 34 yards. All of his snaps, he took his first two in the second quarter, were designed runs.
Taylor, a walk-on from New Bern, didn’t get into the game until the fourth quarter when the Pack had a 37-14 lead. Doeren said with an injury to quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who will miss the next four to six weeks, he wanted to get Taylor ready.
“We weren’t planning on Josh Taylor playing but with Brandon being out an extended period of time, Josh is a guy who could be in the game in a heartbeat,” Doeren said.
Neither Taylor nor Shirreffs attempted a pass. Two other freshmen – Jumichael Ramos and Bra’Lon Cherry – also caught passes on Saturday. Defensive tackle Monty Nelson had a tackle for loss.
“It’s beautiful seeing those guys come out here as true freshmen and make plays like that,” said senior receiver Rashard Smith. “They came in focused on the team and they came in ready to learn.”