Even after winning its first four games, there were still questions about N.C. State.
How good was the Wolfpack after wins over lesser-known teams to start the season?
N.C. State was good enough on Saturday to lead Florida State, last year’s national champions, for 42 minutes.
But Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the No. 1 Seminoles were just a little bit better. Winston threw for four touchdowns and led the Seminoles to a 56-41 comeback win at a raucous Carter-Finley Stadium.
“We gave them everything that we had,” junior defensive end Mike Rose said. “They’re a great team and they found a way to win.”
In the first home game against the No. 1 team in the country in program history, N.C. State quarterback Jacoby Brissett matched Winston throw for throw.
Brissett, who finished with 359 yards, threw for three touchdowns and helped the Wolfpack build leads of 24-7 and 38-28.
But Brissett was critical of his mistakes, a pair of fumbles in the second half, the first near the end of the third quarter which proved to be the opening the Seminoles needed for their 20th straight win.
“I just have to make more plays down the stretch, be smarter with the ball,” Brissett said.
N.C. State (4-1, 0-1 ACC) lost its ninth straight ACC game but it was hardly like any of the eight it lost last season.
Brissett, who has been the biggest difference in the Wolfpack’s improvement this season, had dazzled the sellout crowd of 57,583 and confused FSU’s defense with his feet.
He was able to extend plays under heavy pressure and make FSU’s defenders miss for most of the first three quarters.
Brissett’s 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Johnathan Alston will run on a loop on SportsCenter for the next 24 hours. He eluded two would-be tacklers – both times looking like he had been sacked – only to roll out all the way to the right sideline and then throw the ball back to the middle to Alston in the end zone.
“He’s just unbelievable, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone play that well,” N.C. State freshman receiver Bo Hines said.
Florida State (4-0, 2-0 ACC), playing without two of its starting defensive linemen, finally caught Brissett with 3:51 left in the third quarter. Freshman defensive end Lorenzo Featherston sacked Brissett at the N.C. State 20-yard line. Linebacker Jacob Pugh recovered the fumble and two plays later, Winston hit receiver Rashad Greene (11 catches, 125 yards) for the go-ahead touchdown.
Florida State’s 42-38 advantage at 3:24 in the third was their first lead of the game.
Winston, who was suspended for FSU’s overtime win over Clemson last week, didn’t give up the lead.
On FSU’s next possession, Winston led an 88-yard drive, which running back Karlos Williams capped with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 49-38 lead. Williams finished with three touchdown runs and 126 yards.
Not that Winston was perfect. The Wolfpack got a late interception from freshman linebacker Jerod Fernandez, with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter. It was the second interception of the game by Fernandez.
N.C. State’s offense could only turn Fernandez’s second interception into three points, a 25-yard field goal from Nik Sade, which cut FSU’s lead to 49-41.
Williams and the FSU offense weren’t done. His 12-yard touchdown run capped a 9-play, 75-yard drive and pushed FSU’s lead to 56-41.
FSU, after failing to gain a yard on four rushing attempts in the first quarter, finished the game with 166 rushing yards and 531 yards of total offense.
“We didn’t make enough plays in the second half and they did,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said.
N.C. State could not have asked for a better start. Freshman receiver Bo Hines scored on the second play, a 54-yard catch-and-run down the middle of the field against a confused Florida State defense.
Winston had a quick response, a 32-yard pass to receiver Bobo Wilson to even the score at 7. The Wolfpack ripped off the next 17 points in a 4-minute span.
Running back Shadrach Thornton capped a 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run out of the “wildcat” formation.
Senior defensive tackle T.Y. McGill sacked Winston on FSU’s next play and forced a fumble at the FSU 21-yard line.
FSU’s defense held the Wolfpack to a 37-yard field goal by Sade but Brissett had one more incredible touchdown pass, the one to Alston, in him before the quarter ended.
Doeren said even in the loss he learned about his team, especially by comparison to last year’s loss at FSU.
“We played hard and put ourselves in position to win and last year we didn’t do that against that team,” Doeren said. “One year later, we’ve made some good strides. Now we just need to get up from it and move on.”