NC State’s Meyers has a career day in victory over JMU
All it took was for Ryan Finley to find ‘Mr. Reliable’ Jakobi Meyers for N.C. State to pull away from James Madison in the season opener for both teams.
Nursing a slim four-point lead, and facing third and long, Finley connected with the junior for a gain of 39 to the Dukes’ 29 yard line. Finley would connect with Meyers on another third and long three plays later, and the Wolfpack were able to put seven on the board, escaping the season opener with a 24-13 win over JMU.
“Jakobi really played his heart out today,” Finley said. “Came down with some tough grabs. He says just put it in his area code and I think he means it, just give Jakobi a chance and he comes down with it. I’m really proud with how Jakobi played.”
Finley, who passed up the NFL to return to Raleigh for his senior season, finished 29-43 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Meyers, who fought off a nagging leg injury all game, finished with 14 catches for 161 yards, both career highs for the former quarterback, and one catch away from the single-game record. The 161 were the most for any receiver in school history in a season opener.
Reggie Gallaspy burst for a gain of 12 to put the Wolfpack inside the 10 after the conversion from Meyers, and scored on the next play to put the game away with 1:05 remaining. N.C. State’s game-winning drive covered 84 yards in 11 plays and took almost six minutes (5:50) off the clock on a humid day in Carter-Finley Stadium.
“We’re excited to be 1-0, and thanks to our fans, students, band and everyone that endured the heat,” Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren said. “It was hot out there.”
Meyers was wearing a walking boot after the game, but said he expects to be on the field next week for their second game of the season. The former signal caller was a safety blanket for Finley in the opener, stepping up in the place of Stephen Louis, who missed the game with a minor hamstring injury. Being a former quarterback himself, Meyers takes pride in making plays for Finley.
“I just think I understand,” Meyers said. “I know you have guys that are two times bigger than you baring down on you. I know I have to get my eyes around and make a tough catch. If he can stand in the pocket and take that hit I can make that catch.”
Finley threw two first half touchdowns and N.C. State (1-0) shook off a slow start and scoreless first quarter to take a commanding 17-7 halftime lead.
The Wolfpack’s first mistake of the season came on their opening drive when freshman Tyler Baker-Williams coughed up a fumble on his first carry. The Dukes recovered on the 32 and made N.C. State pay. JMU marched 68 yards in eight plays, capped off when Ben DiNucci hit Riley Stapleton for a 5-yard score, giving the visitors an early 7-0 lead. The Pack outgained the Dukes 137-82 in the first quarter, but James Madison took care of the football and benefited from DiNucci (23-27, 197, 1 TD) connecting on all six of his pass attempts.
N.C. State managed to snap out of its funk, scoring 17 unanswered on three consecutive drives to end the half.
Christopher Dunn got the Wolfpack on the board first with a 25-yard field goal. On N.C. State’s next possession, Finley threw his first touchdown pass of the 2018 season, connecting with redshirt freshman Thayer Thomas for a 16-yard score. It was the first career catch for Thomas, who set the Wolfpack up to start the drive with a 40-yard punt return to the 38.
The N.C. State defense, which had to replace nine starters, set up the next score, but it came at a price.
At the Wolfpack 10-yard line, DiNucci fumbled as he sprinted to the endzone. N.C. State senior defensive tackle Eurndraus Bryant was in the right spot, as the ball bounced right into his hands. Bryant took off towards the endzone, but dropped the football. Luckily, the Wolfpack were able to recover, but Bryant took a shot to the head and had to be carted off the field after a long delay. Bryant was taken to a local hospital for X-rays, the school announced at halftime.
The offense went right to work when the game resumed, going 90 yards in 12 plays, ending in a Finley 14-yard pass to C.J. Riley with 2:50 remaining in the half.
“Heck of a catch,” Finley said. “I just gave him a shot up there, tall guy and he just went up and got it. That was fun to see him get in the endzone.”
The Dukes (0-1) answered to start the third, first forcing a N.C. State punt, then going on a six-play drive, ending with a short field goal to pull within seven, 17-10. The Wolfpack allowed JMU to stay in the game when Christopher Dunn missed a 43-yard attempt. N.C. State used 12 plays to get into scoring position, but Finley threw two straight incomplete passes, setting up Dunn’s attempt.
The third quarter wasn’t productive at all for N.C. State, who not only went scoreless, but only managed 54 yards on 22 offensive plays.
“We were missing some guys who could have helped us,” Doeren said. “But a lot of guys played and it was good to get them out there. So it was some really good stuff and it will be great film for our guys.”
JMU converted three third downs on a 15-play drive to start the fourth that took nearly seven minutes, ending in a 19-yard field goal to make it a four-point game. N.C. State finished with 392 yards of total offense. The Wolfpack will host Georgia State next week at 12:30 p.m.