There would be no stomping on the logo at midfield, no spray paint in the visiting locker room.
N.C. State dismantled North Carolina 35-7 Saturday at Kenan Stadium. The Wolfpack, playing with toughness and inspiration, ran the ball, dominated line play and came up with all the right schemes and formations against its biggest rival.
Jacoby Brissett, challenged by Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren to be the best quarterback on the field, was just that. The junior threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth, accounting for 167 of the Pack’s 388 rushing yards as N.C. State (7-5 overall, 3-5 ACC) ended a two-game losing streak to the Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4).
“Sometimes, things are just right, and they were right today,” Doeren said.
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But when it was over, the N.C. State band playing with gusto, the Wolfpack players and coaches exchanged hugs on the field and handshakes with the Tar Heels. They then turned toward their fans to slap hands along the lower-stands wall, allowing them to be a part of the big moment.
“Our thing here was to show them how to win with class, how to walk off the field and celebrate with our fans, celebrate together, respectfully,” Wolfpack running back Shadrach Thornton said.
Thornton, like Brissett, rose to the challenge Saturday. He had 161 yards on 28 bullish carries, scoring a second-quarter touchdown as the Pack took a 21-0 halftime lead.
“The game plan was to run the football and keep their offense off the field and dominate the clock and finish drives,” Doeren said. “We had a lot of things we felt if we were physical would work, and we were.”
The victory over the Tar Heels was the first for Doeren, who was hired after former Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien – who had a 5-1 record against UNC – was fired in 2012. And Doeren didn’t hold back after the game, speaking frankly, bluntly.
He first talked of dominating Wake Forest and UNC, the in-state schools the Pack faced this season. He talked about the “bounce” in recruiting that could come from it.
“We are moving towards where we want to be,” Doeren said. “This is a blue-collar school. This is a work-ethic, hands-in-the-dirt school. It’s founded by tough people, and that’s what this football team will be. And that’s what we were today.”
The week began with N.C. State safety Hakim Jones talking tough, saying UNC quarterback Marquise Williams would “basically almost quit” if hit too many times. Doeren didn’t like it. Didn’t disagree with it, apparently, but didn’t like it.
“He was saying what all of us were saying, but it’s not what we needed to say in the (Monday) press conference, right?” Doeren said. “(Williams) is the guy who stirs their drink on offense. He’s a really good player, and when you hit a really good player repetitively it makes it hard.”
The Wolfpack defense continually hit Williams, who had 374 yards in total offense in UNC’s 45-20 win over Duke. The Pack collapsed the passing pocket, kept Williams from producing explosive plays, had four sacks and limited the Tar Heels to 30 net rushing yards and a season-low 207 total.
“Offensively that was probably as bad as I have been around, actually,” said UNC coach Larry Fedora, who won his first two games against the Pack.
Williams left the game with a leg injury early in the third quarter, after being sacked by T.Y. McGill. Mitch Trubisky led a touchdown drive in the final moments, passing 13 yards to Quinshad Davis – Davis’ 21st career touchdown catch.
Brissett ran 17 yards for the Wolfpack’s first touchdown, capping a 79-yard drive to begin the game, and he later had a 60-yard burst to set up Thornton’s 4-yard scoring run. Brissett’s three scoring passes all came on third-down plays. He hit tight end David Grinnage from 2 yards – completing a drive that had a 58-yard run by Thornton – and later twice fooled UNC’s defense with short throws to fullback Tyler Purvis.
Both teams have bowl games left. N.C. State could be headed for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, and Tar Heels’ bowl options dwindled – the Independence Bowl had representatives at the game.
“To play this game you have to play with passion, you have to play with energy,” Fedora said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t have that today.
“Let’s give credit to their coaching staff and their players. They were better prepared, and they played a better game. They were better than we were.”