RALEIGH — N.C. State had held Clemson in check for the better part of 40 minutes on Thursday night.
The sellout crowd at Carter-Finley Stadium could sense another big upset by the Wolfpack against a top 10 team. So could the N.C. State players.
We were right there, N.C. State quarterback Pete Thomas said. We had them right where we wanted them.
Then a controversial call in the third quarter, which cost N.C. State a potential touchdown, changed the game and Clemsons star quarterback Tajh Boyd did the rest.
Boyd threw for three touchdowns to lead the No. 3 Tigers to a 26-14 win over N.C. State. It kept Clemsons national title hopes alive and ended the Wolfpacks three-game winning streak against top 10 teams, but it didnt go off without a hitch.
With N.C. State (2-1, 0-1 ACC) trailing 13-7, receiver Bryan Underwood appeared to run for an 83-yard touchdown.
Underwood took a jet sweep around the right edge and got past the Clemson (3-0, 1-0) defense. As he sprinted down the N.C. State sideline, line judge Richard Misner ruled he stepped out of bounds at the Clemson 47-yard line with 7 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The play happened right in front of first-year Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren.
He didnt go out of bounds, Doeren said. Unfortunately, they blew it dead so they couldnt review it.
On the ESPN replay, it looked like Underwood stayed in bounds as he raced into the end zone and celebrated the apparent touchdown. Instead of a score, Underwood officially picked up 36 yards on the run.
Underwood, who had a similar 18-yard run in the first half, said he hadnt seen a replay of the run, nor did he know if he went out of bounds.
To be honest, my eyes were straight on the end zone, I wasnt looking at the ground, Underwood said.
The call kept N.C. States offense on the field and three plays later, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley sacked Thomas and forced a fumble.
Clemson recovered the fumble at the N.C. State 48 and it didnt take long for Boyd to cash in the mistake. Boyd hit Martavis Bryant for a 30-yard score and a 20-7 lead with 5:25 left in the third.
The energy from the crowd of 57,583 turned to anger and the Wolfpack offense couldnt get back in rhythm until Boyd added a second touchdown to Bryant, a 15-yarder with 11:27 remaining in the fourth quarter to push the Tigers lead to 26-7.
Thomas added a 4-yard touchdown run with 3:50 left but it was too late for the Wolfpack, which lost for the ninth time in 10 tries to the Tigers.
Doeren, who suffered the first home loss as a coach in his career, said there are no moral victories for pushing the third-ranked Tigers, not even after last years 62-48 track meet, but he said liked the fight of his team.
Its not a moral victory by any means, Doeren said. We do not accept losing here but Im proud of the way we competed.
The Wolfpack took a 7-6 lead on a 21-yard touchdown run by running back Shadrach Thornton with 11:03 left in the second quarter. Thornton, the teams leading rusher a year ago, carried a handful of Clemson defenders the final four yards into the end zone.
N.C. States defense kept the Tigers high-powered offense in low gear until late in the second quarter. Boyd hit tight end Sam Cooper for an 11-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 13-7 halftime lead.
N.C. State stayed close, which after a struggle with FCS-opponent Richmond on Sept. 7, didnt look like it would happen during this ESPN showcase. But close wasnt much of a consolation after the controversial third-quarter call.
We knew we could hang with them, Thomas said. We expected to beat them, we didnt do it.