You have to make plays to win the game.
N.C. State has learned the hard way that it’s not always the obvious moments that turn out to be the difference in the game.
In Saturday’s 27-21 win at Florida State, all the little moments and big plays went N.C. State’s way for its first road win over a top-25 team since 2008.
Five plays (other than the touchdowns), that helped N.C. State knock off the 12th-ranked Seminoles:
1. Bradley Chubb forces a fumble
Score: N.C. State, 10-7
Time: 7:22, second quarter
Field position: third-and-3 on the N.C. State 33
FSU quarterback James Blackman was flushed from the pocket by Chubb and took off down the field. Blackman put a pretty spin move on safety Jarius Morehead at the 31-yard line to pick up the first down and was headed down the field for more yards.
Chubb caught up to Blackman at the 22 and, with an old Lawrence Taylor move, chopped down with his right arm and swiped the ball out of Blackman’s hands.
“I saw that ball hanging loose,” Chubb said. “He spun on somebody, and I tried to knock it out then. I kept running, and I just persisted.
“I didn’t even know I hit it out until I saw everybody fumbling for it.”
Chubb knocked the ball loose a fraction of a second before Blackman’s right knee hit the ground. The play was ruled a fumble on the field and then upheld after a lengthy review.
ESPN incorrectly said it was Chubb who recovered the fumble during the broadcast and the official box score credits safety Shawn Boone with the recovery, but it was Morehead, who didn’t give up on the play, who actually came up with the fumble at the 2-yard line.
Morehead emerged from a pile of a half a dozen players and then handed it to Chubb, who waved it around for the officials.
“Jarius recovered it,” Chubb said. “I was just holding it up because they were fighting for it. I was like, ‘It’s right here.’ ”
Great hustle play by Chubb and a nice break for N.C. State that Blackman wasn’t ruled down on the field. Given the timing of the ball coming out and Blackman’s knee hitting the ground, it was going to be difficult to overturn the call on the field, either way.
2. Airius Moore stops Cam Akers
Score: N.C. State, 10-7
Time: 3:52, second quarter
Field position: third-and-2 on the N.C. State 13
With FSU driving and ready to wipe out N.C. State’s early 10-0 lead, Jimbo Fisher figured he’d play it safe and run a quick toss to Akers, an electric freshman. Akers was barely able to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Moore, a senior linebacker, shot through the FSU backfield and knocked Akers down for no gain. Instead of FSU going in for a 14-10 lead – which would have been demoralizing given how well N.C. State played in the first quarter – the Noles had to settle for a chip-shot, field-goal attempt. From the right hash, Ricky Aguayo then missed the kick wide to the right.
On the next series, N.C. State popped a 71-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jakobi Meyers to extend its lead to 17-7.
3. Stephen Louis’ third-down catch
Score: N.C. State, 20-16
Time: 11:03, fourth quarter
Field position: third-and-9 on the FSU 45
In 2015, N.C. State let a 17-7 first quarter lead slip away at Florida State because it couldn’t make enough plays on offense. The Wolfpack receivers, in particular, were out-classed by FSU’s defensive backs. And even when N.C. State’s receivers could get open, they dropped a lot of passes from quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
That was not the case on Saturday. Louis, a junior receiver, jumped up and out-muscled FSU cornerback Levonta Taylor for a high pass from quarterback Ryan Finley right at the first-down marker.
“That was like a Dennis Rodman rebound,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “Just going up and snatching the ball out of the air with two hands. That was big time.”
Two plays later, Jaylen Samuels scored his second touchdown of the game, a 14-yard pick up on a shovel pass, to extend N.C. State’s lead to 27-16.
4. Ryan Finley’s heads-up safety
Score: N.C. State, 27-16
Time: 6:35, 4th quarter
Field position: second-and-9 on the N.C. State 4
Up two scores, all N.C. State had to do was take care of the ball. The only way for FSU to come back and win the game would have been with a free touchdown.
The Noles almost got one when an errant shotgun snap went wide of Finley and into the end zone. Instead of trying to pick the ball up and force a pass or fumble it back to FSU, Finley wisely knocked the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
The smart play by Finley, who threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, saved N.C. State at least four points.
5. Nyheim Hines’ third-down run
Score: N.C. State, 27-21
Time: 1:31, fourth quarter
Field position: third-and-7 on the N.C. State 28
N.C. State needed one first down to put the game away. The Wolfpack got the ball back with 3:01 on the clock but only picked up 3 yards on the first two downs.
With FSU selling out to stop the run, Hines was able to pop outside, with a key block from right guard Tony Adams, for 15 yards and the first down. Hines was also smart enough to stay inbounds and let the clock run.
N.C. State only had to snap the ball twice from the “victory” formation after Hines’ big run. Hines finished the game with 94 hard-earned yards on 24 carries.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio