Wolfpack hopes to learn from mistakes

jgiglio@newsobserver.comSeptember 8, 2013 

— Neither N.C. State quarterback was in the mood to celebrate after the Wolfpack’s 23-21 win over Richmond on Saturday night.

Not Junior Pete Thomas, who rallied the Wolfpack into position for the winning field goal in the final minute, and not freshman Bryant Shirreffs, who had a hand in the team’s only two touchdowns.

“It was very frustrating,” Thomas said. “We were driving the ball, and then we’d turn it over.”

Playing without No. 1 quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who broke a bone in his left foot in the opener against Louisiana Tech, the N.C. State offense turned the ball over four times.

Nik Sade was the Wolfpack’s best weapon on offense, making all three of his field goals, including the winner from 48 yards with 33 seconds left.

Every time it appeared the Wolfpack was about to take control, the Spiders would force a mistake.

Shirreffs, who ran for a 28-yard touchdown and threw a 7-yard TD pass to Matt Dayes, fumbled on the Richmond 4 late in the third quarter with the Wolfpack down 21-20.

After the game, Shirreffs was still worried about the mistake – and his next meeting with quarterbacks coach Matt Canada – rather than enjoying his first two college touchdowns.

“I’m just glad Sade saved me,” Shirreffs said. “I was so nervous because it would have been my fault.”

Thomas had his problems, too. In his first start since his sophomore year at Colorado State in 2011, he threw two interceptions in Richmond’s end of the field in the second half.

Even the Wolfpack defense, which didn’t give up a point in the second half, had an interception return for a touchdown — that would have sealed the game in the final seconds — called back for an offsides penalty.

After what coach Dave Doeren called the “smooth sailing” of last week’s 40-14 win over Louisiana Tech, there were plenty of mistakes to overcome for Saturday’s win.

“They found a way to win,” Doeren said. “A lot of teams wouldn’t do that.”

Thomas, who completed 24 of 31 passes for 237 yards and ran for 47 yards, wasn’t so sure there would be a happy ending after his second interception. Richmond safety Ayo Ogunniyi picked off a pass intended for receiver Rashard Smith at the 12 with 3:04 left in the game.

“I was mad at myself,” Thomas said. “I forced it down field, and you can’t do that.”

The Wolfpack defense, which gave up 218 passing yards to quarterback Michael Strauss in the first half, gave Thomas a shot at redemption. N.C. State’s defense forced a three-and-out and gave Thomas the ball back with 1:59 left.

Thomas connected on two passes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 17 yards and then one to Smith for 13 to move the ball to Richmond’s 49.

On first down, Thomas took a shot at the end zone and tried to hit receiver Bryan Underwood. A pass interference call on Richmond’s Reggie Barnette moved the Wolfpack into Sade’s range.

N.C. State gained 3 yards on the next three plays, but Doeren was content to play for the field goal. Sade, who made four field goals in the opener, backed up his coach’s confidence and picked up his teammates.

The late kick and the last stand by the defense were enough to offset the mistakes. Thomas said the Wolfpack, which is off this week, will learn from the mistakes.

“We pulled through adversity, and I think this win will help us down the road,” Thomas said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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