One lap of honor wasn’t enough for Dave Doeren. After high-fiving the N.C. State contingent near the east end zone of Kenan Stadium, he went all the way to the other end of the stadium and back, slapping palms with fans in red who migrated to the front row.
It was the proudest moment in Doeren’s two seasons as coach at N.C. State, this thoroughly comprehensive 35-7 win over North Carolina. The Wolfpack earned the right to celebrate, coaches and players alike, most visibly quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was hoisted over the wall and into the stands by jubilant fans.
Doeren had to date produced more excuses than big wins, but there was nothing small about this one. It was massive in every respect, from the final score to the degree of domination, the statistical disparity to the jarring gap in physicality. No one saw this coming, other than the Wolfpack.
“None of you did, but we did,” Doeren said. “I’m telling you right now.”
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In retrospect, that was clear. State talked a big game, safety Hakim Jones earlier in the week declaring North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams “basically almost quits” after he’s hit a few times.
Jones’ comments may have been ill-advised, but they offered a window into N.C. State’s game plan and attitude: play hard, hit harder. The Wolfpack backed it up, hitting Williams hard and often before he suffered what appeared to be a knee injury in the third quarter.
Williams, behind a line that was completely overwhelmed, never had a chance. The Wolfpack changed up their defensive fronts, but the triumph was less scheme than steam. N.C. State clearly wanted this more than North Carolina did.
That was true on both sides of the ball. Brissett ran for one touchdown and threw for three more – two on the exact same play-action pass on third-and-goal – with both Brissett and Shadrach Thornton hitting triple digits in rushing yards.
“I saw toughness,” Thornton said. “There were some times when he was twisting and turning and I said to myself, ‘Just go down, we don’t need you getting hurt right now.’ He was being very physical. He refused to come out. We basically wanted to come out here and make a statement for our seniors and our program."
The Tar Heels brought back the chrome helmets from the win at Duke, but didn’t bring anything else home with them from Durham – no energy, no execution, no hope.
“Stunning is a good word,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “It was very disappointing.”
North Carolina finishes the regular season 6-6, in the ACC’s second tier of bowls and therefore at risk of being sent back to Shreveport, La., where the Tar Heels had a disastrous experience in 2011. As bad as losing to N.C. State is, that might be worse.
Such is the penalty for being outplayed and outcoached. N.C. State’s game plan was impeccable. Although there are no guarantees, and Notre Dame could yet mess things up, at 7-5 the Wolfpack may have played its way into Charlotte’s Belk Bowl, a potential in-state reward for an in-state victory.
Doeren certainly enjoyed that part of it. He recounted a lengthy anecdote about a summer encounter at the dry cleaner with a North Carolina fan wearing a “fancy belt and the light blue shirt with the collar up,” then complained that even N.C. State’s team hotel only stocks North Carolina gear in the gift shop.
“We hadn’t beaten them,” Doeren said. “Now I can say, ‘Get that stuff out of there.’ It’s great. We’re 30 minutes apart. Larry and his staff do a good job and their players play hard. But it’s our year to talk about the win.”