Dave Doeren skipped as A.J. Long’s last-second pass sailed toward the end zone. By the time N.C. State safety Josh Jones came down with the interception, Doeren raised both arms.
The reaction was subdued, but after N.C. State’s 24-17 win at Syracuse on Saturday, Doeren finally had an ACC victory to celebrate.
The Wolfpack (5-4, 1-4 ACC) moved within one win of a bowl game and more importantly snapped a 12-game ACC losing streak.
After shaking hands with Syracuse coach Scott Shafer near midfield, Doeren found a pocket of N.C. State fans at the Carrier Dome and reached up for a round of high fives on the way into the locker room.
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After a 3-9 season in 2013, the Wolfpack will go back to a bowl game this season with a win in one of its last three games. It closes the regular season with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest at home and a trip to North Carolina on Nov. 29.
Jones’ interception capped a tense final 2 minutes. Shadrach Thornton’s 18-yard touchdown catch gave the Wolfpack a 24-14 lead with 2:14 left.
The Orange (3-6, 1-4) quickly moved into N.C. State territory for a 50-yard field goal to cut the lead to 24-17 with 17 seconds left. The Orange then recovered the onside kick. Dyshawn Davis actually picked up the kick and ran it into the end zone but the kicking team can’t advance an onside kick after the recovery.
With 13 seconds left, the Orange offense ran two plays. After a short incompletion, Long tried to let a long throw go near the end zone but Jones came down with it at the 8-yard line.
N.C. State led 9-0 but trailed 14-9 after Syracuse got a 25-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback A.J. Long (who finished with 307 yards) at 11:38 in the third quarter.
The Orange was driving in N.C. State territory when redshirt freshman defensive end Pharoah McKever turned the game in the Wolfpack’s favor. McKever dropped in a zone blitz in the middle of coverage and snared Long’s pass and then returned 82 yards for a touchdown.
McKever, one of seven players who was suspended for the 30-18 loss at Louisville on Oct. 18, played quarterback in high school at South Columbus. The 6-6 end started his college career at receiver but switched to defense.
He looked like a receiver on his interception return, getting a key block from Dravious Wright to get into the end zone.
It was fitting the defense, which has struggled in ACC play, came up with the key plays. The Wolfpack finished with a season-high eight sacks, 2.5 from senior defensive end Art Norman, and held the Orange to 38 rushing yards – the fewest it has allowed this season. The 345 yards of total offense were the fewest N.C. State had allowed in five ACC games this season.