N.C. State has been in a lot of close games this season, losing some gut-churners.
But the Pack wouldn’t let another victory get away Saturday, topping Syracuse 35-20 at the Carrier Dome.
Matt Dayes, running hard, busting tackles, ran for 108 yards and three touchdowns, and quarterback Ryan Finley shook off a first-half injury to pass for 340 yards on a 20-for-29 day.
The Wolfpack (5-5, 2-4 ACC) ended a four-game losing streak and now needs one victory in its last two games to become bowl eligible. The Orange, playing without injured quarterback Eric Dungey, fell to 4-6 and 2-4.
The Wolfpack let a tough loss to Clemson linger last month, and some had to wonder if last week’s 24-20 loss to Florida State would have the same effect. The Orange jumped out to a 7-0 lead Saturday, scoring on their first possession.
But an interception by the Pack’s Jack Tocho on Syracuse’s next possession was a momentum-shifter. N.C. State went 82 yards to tie the score on Dayes’ first TD run, from seven yards.
The Pack learned just before kickoff that Dungey would be unable to play for Syracuse. Dungey took a big hit last week against Clemson and was questionable for Saturday’s game.
Dungey has had six 300-yard passing games this season. His replacement, Zack Mahoney, had thrown 13 passes before Saturday. But Mahoney, who played last season against the Pack, was effective at times Saturday.
Mahoney had an 81-yard touchdown throw to Amba Etta-Tawo in the third quarter just after the Pack had taken a 21-10 lead on Finley’s 68-yard scoring pass to Kelvin Harmon.
Moments later, the Orange blocked a punt, taking over at the Pack 17. But the Wolfpack defense limited the damage to a field goal, keeping the lead, then put together a 90-yard drive.
Finley, who injured a foot in the first half, had four third-down completions and Dayes raced around right end for his 20-yard score.
Orange fans in the crowd of 34,842 were roaring later when Mahoney went deep for an apparent TD. But a chop-block penalty against Syracuse negated the play and the Orange had to punt.
A third Dayes scoring run had Orange fans leaving the dome.
Why NC State Won
The Pack made the plays that mattered, whether it was a third-down catch, tackle-breaking run, sack or key block.
Limiting the Orange to a field goal after Syracuse blocked a punt was critical for N.C. State. The Orange had just scored on the bomb to Etta-Tawo on its previous possession, and it was a key juncture in the game.
Finley returning to the game in the second half was another key element. Backup quarterback Jalan McClendon had some nice runs for the Pack, but an interception late in the first half — on a poor throw into the end zone — hurt the Pack and was a boost for the Orange.
What it means
Ending a four-game slide was the most important thing for the Pack. But a fifth win also moves the Pack a step closer to being bowl eligible.
The Wolfpack ends the season with a final home game against Miami and then goes to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina. It will be Senior Day in both cases — first for the Pack, then the Tar Heels.
A rough patch in the schedule — Clemson, Louisville, Boston College, FSU — took its toll on the Pack and was likely the toughest any team in the ACC faced. But the Wolfpack toughed it out Saturday for a road win.
340 yards: Ryan Finley’s passing day was his best of the season. He now has three consecutive 300-yard passing games and four this season.