N.C. State’s Matt Dayes quickly sought to make a clarification Saturday at Syracuse.
The running back had raised eyebrows the week before, after the Pack’s 24-20 loss to Florida State, by saying, “I almost feel like we’re cursed.”
But after the Wolfpack’s 35-20 victory Saturday over the Orange, Dayes said, “I didn’t mean to say that. It was just the moment. I was kind of frustrated.”
But Dayes was only expressing the frustration of everyone in N.C. State program after the FSU loss at Carter-Finley Stadium. It came a few weeks after the Pack’s overtime loss at Clemson — Kyle Bambard missing what would have been a 33-yard, walk-off field goal — and was followed by a blowout loss to Louisville and dismal loss at home to Boston College.
The Pack’s season, and Dayes’ senior season, appeared to be on the brink of flat-lining with four straight losses. But Dayes and the Wolfpack put an end to it by beating the Orange, Dayes rushing for 108 yards and three touchdowns while Ryan Finley passed for 340 yards and a score.
“It was tough running the ball because they were loading the box,” Dayes said. “We opened up the game passing the ball and that opened up the run for me. Our receivers did a good job catching the ball and getting first downs for us.”
Finley suffered a leg injury in the first half and was replaced by Jalan McClendon, who gave the Pack some nice runs in a second-quarter drive. But McClendon made a poor decision in the red zone late in the half, forcing a pass into the end zone that was intercepted.
Pack coach Dave Doeren said Finley was cleared to return after halftime. Finley made some accurate throws into tight spaces, and the Pack receivers made some tough grabs.
“He was poised in the pocket,” Dayes said of Finley. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better. He did an awesome job for us.”
And Dayes was Dayes.
His three rushing TDs tied his career high, and he’s now fourth on N.C. State’s career list with 31 rushing touchdowns. It was his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season, the most for the Pack since Joe McIntosh had seven in 1981, and moved him closer to a 1,000-yard season.
Jaylen Samuels had six catches for 66 yards and rushed for a touchdown. Kelvin Harmon had four catches for 101 yards, including a 68-yarder for a TD, and Bra’Lon Cherry caught a team-high seven balls for 85 yards. Nyheim Hines, on his birthday, had a 56-yard reception to set up Samuels’ score.
The Wolfpack defense did its part, allowing a net 28 yards rushing and 218 total. The Orange, playing without injured quarterback Eric Dungey, had just enough offense to keep the game tight but at times couldn’t get the ball away from the Pack.
“They did enough for us to win (and) that’s all you can ask for,” Dayes said of the defense. “We put up more points than the other team, so the defense did their job.”
With a 5-5 overall record (2-4 ACC), the Pack needs a sixth victory to qualify for a bowl as it hosts Miami this week. But beating Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, Doeren said, could spur the Pack to a strong finish.
“It’s huge, and it gets that carrot right next to their nose for a potential bowl opportunity,” Doeren said. “We’re going home to play our last home game, on Senior Day, which is a big opportunity for our seniors and (it) gives us some momentum and confidence going into a big game against Miami.
“When you work as hard as these kids have and these coaches have, you want to feel the pleasure of your work. And you can’t do that by almost winning. It gives them the satisfaction of the grind.”