Sports curses aren’t supposed to exist anymore. Ask the Chicago Cubs or the Boston Red Sox.
Just don’t ask N.C. State senior Matt Dayes. After another difficult loss, 24-20 to No. 19 Florida State on Saturday night, the Wolfpack running back is starting to run out of plausible explanations.
“It’s very frustrating,” Dayes said. “I almost feel like we’re cursed.”
N.C. State (4-5, 1-4 ACC) fans have an unprintable name for this curse, which has crept up at inopportune times in basketball, baseball, football and, heck, even wrestling.
You can dismiss this as a losers’ lament, but explaining the inexplicable can be difficult when you’ve seen so many odd bounces and breaks go the wrong way. There’s a lineage from Chris Corchiani to J.J. Redick to Matt Freije to Anton Gill in basketball, that’s interwoven from Shaun Hill to T.A. McLendon to Torrey Smith to Bryan Underwood to Kyle Bambard in football and topped off in baseball from Trea Turner to twin heartbreaks against TCU and Coastal Carolina.
N.C. State fans don’t need to Google those names or losses for context or meaning. They’ve seen it all. Ghost stories are best served near campfires and with adult beverages, but there are N.C. State fans, and players like Dayes, searching for logical answers after another illogical setback.
A dropped interception was the pivotal play on Saturday night, a week after procedural penalty cost them a 21-14 loss to Boston College and a missed field goal cost them three weeks ago in a 24-17 overtime loss at Clemson.
N.C. State led 20-17 with 3:16 left in the game when Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois made an errant throw into the end zone from N.C. State’s 19-yard line.
Receiver Travis Rudolph, who was being closely covered by cornerback Jack Tocho, ran a post into the end zone. N.C. State safety Shawn Boone read the play and stepped in front of the pass. Boone jumped and got both hands on the ball but couldn’t bring the interception down.
On the next play, Francois shook off pressure from safety Niles Clark and hit Rudolph for a 19-yard touchdown, after Boone slipped in coverage.
N.C. State’s offense had 3:09 to win the game. Quarterback Ryan Finley (25-of-41, 304 yards) got the ensuing started with a 12-yard scramble and then 15 yards were tacked on for a personal foul by Florida State’s defense.
The Wolfpack moved down to FSU’s 26-yard line, but Finley couldn’t connect with Jaylen Samuels on third down and overthrew Nyheim Hines on fourth down.
N.C. State was close again but not close enough.
“We’ve lost a lot of heartbreakers,” said Hines, who finished with a career-high 11 catches for 124 yards. “Every week it seems we’re in a game, and we just keep finding ways to lose instead of winning.”
It was the latest in a series of close calls this season for the Wolfpack. N.C. State dropped a 33-30 loss at East Carolina on Sept. 10, a game marked by missed kicks and missed opportunities. The overtime loss at then-No. 3 Clemson stung the most with a 33-yard missed field goal by Bambard at the end of regulation. Last week’s home loss to Boston College came after a touchdown was called back for an illegal receiver downfield.
Since beating No. 3 Florida State 17-16 in 2012, the Wolfpack has lost 10 in a row to ranked opponents. It has an 0-9 record vs. top 25 teams under coach Dave Doeren.
Doeren talked a lot this week about how close his team was to being 7-1, instead of 4-4 going into this game. He was disconsolate after another gut-wrenching loss on Saturday.
“We got a lot better in one week, but it hurts not being able to salvage (the win), just like it always does,” Doeren said. “They are hurting right now.”
N.C. State looked like it was in business with a 20-10 lead at 3:05 in the third quarter when Samuels scored his first touchdown since Oct. 1. Samuels took an end around 23 yards and went into the end zone untouched for the 10-point lead.
The Seminoles came right back with a quick drive and answer. Running back Dalvin Cook, who was bottled up most of the night by N.C. State’s defense, scored a 10-yard touchdown on the last play of the third quarter to cut N.C. State’s lead to 20-17.
N.C. State’s defense gave the offense the ball back up three points with 8:04 left in the game, but the Wolfpack punted the ball back after picking up only one first down.
FSU’s winning drive covered 83 yards in five plays. The Seminoles made the one play they needed to win the game, after the Wolfpack couldn’t. Maybe that’s the explanation. Dayes tried to reconcile the latest game that got away.
“It’s tough,” Dayes said. “We won all aspects of the game, but we’ve just got to finish. That’s where we’ve been struggling the past few weeks is just finishing.”