In the first half of Saturday’s season-opener against Georgia Southern, N.C. State looked a lot like the team that finished the 2013 season.
The offense was indecisive, the run defense was problematic and the Wolfpack was down two touchdowns at the half.
Then the second half was nothing like anything the Wolfpack went through last season.
“You saw a different team in the second half,” quarterback Jacoby Brissett said.
A different team, different Brissett and a different result: Brissett threw for three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 97 seconds left, to lift the Wolfpack to a 24-23 comeback win.
“It was a pretty good performance for a first game,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said of his new quarterback.
Just when it looked like N.C. State was headed toward a ninth straight loss, Brissett and the Wolfpack offense found another gear for their first win since last September.
Down 17-3 at the half and 20-10 to start the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack took its only lead of the game on Brissett’s 35-yard touchdown pass to running back Matt Dayes with 1:37 left in the game.
Brissett also hit sophomore receiver Bra’Lon Cherry for a pair of touchdowns in the second half and N.C. State’s defense, despite giving up 246 yards on the ground, came up with a big turnover that aided the fourth-quarter comeback.
It was Brissett who made the difference after a sluggish start. He was 18 of 23 for 213 yards with three touchdowns in the second half, compared to 10 of 17 for 78 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Brissett wasn’t interested in taking any of the credit for the win, though. He was quick to praise his offensive line – which didn’t give up a sack in the second half – the defense, running back Shad Thornton (10 carries, 73 yards) and receiver Bo Hines (nine catches, 85 yards).
“I don’t know what to say,” Brissett said. “We really played great fourth-quarter ball. That’s what we’ve been stressing – playing together and playing as a team and focusing on finishing the game.”
Georgia Southern, in its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision after years of dominating the Division I-AA level, almost spoiled Brissett’s debut.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Eagles led 20-10 and held the Wolfpack on fourth-and-1 from the 9-yard line.
Quarterback Kevin Ellison, who ran for 116 yards and threw for 184, led the Eagles down to the Wolfpack 1-yard line on the subsequent drive. On second-and-goal from the 1, Ellison lost his footing and then lost the ball. N.C. State defensive tackle Monty Nelson came out of the pile with the ball.
Brissett led a 12-play, 99-yard drive to cut the Eagles’ lead to 20-17. Brissett completed six passes on the drive, including three to Hines, before finding Cherry wide open in the middle of the field for an 11-yard score.
The Eagles responded with a quick drive into Wolfpack territory but with Ellison shaken up after a 52-yard run, they had to settle for a 31-yard field goal and a 23-17 lead with 3:35 to play.
Brissett went 8 of 9 on the final drive and hit Dayes down the right sideline for the game-winning score. Last year, with Brissett sitting out after transferring from Florida, that might have ended with a turnover and a loss.
“We had absolute confidence Jacoby was going to take us down the field to score,” Thornton said.
The Eagles jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 61-yard run by Matt Breida. The Wolfpack defense was losing Ellison on the option and was confused when Ellison – who entered the game with two career TD passes – took to the air.
The Eagles stretched their lead to 17-3 when Ellison hit receiver Kentrellis Showers for a 29-yard score with 34 seconds left in the first half.
But the Wolfpack defense held the Eagles to a pair of field goals in the second half. And Brissett, who hadn’t started a game since 2012, found his form.
“The beauty of football is it’s a four-quarter game,” Doeren said.
NC STATE 24, GEORGIA SOUTHERN 23
|Time of Possession||32:27||27:33|