Lots of offense, one important stop. Syracuse outlasts NC State, 51-41

N.C. State made a bunch of big plays, Syracuse just made more.

Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey outdueled N.C. State’s Ryan Finley to lead the Orange to a 51-41 home win over No. 22 N.C. State on Saturday night.

The two offenses combined for 1,102 yards, 953 through the air, and 51 first downs but it was a defensive play, an interception by junior linebacker Andrew Armstrong with 2:18 left, that sealed the win for the Orange (6-2, 3-2 ACC).

“Bottom line in the second half, we couldn’t get off the field on third down on defense,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “We needed to score on every possession because that was the kind of game it was. We were one possession away from winning that game.”

The Wolfpack (5-2, 2-2 ACC) offense recovered from a lopsided loss at Clemson last week but the defense couldn’t slow the Orange’s fastbreak attack. Finley threw for a career-high 473 yards and receiver Kelvin Harmon rebounded from a subpar outing with 11 catches for a career-high 247 yards.

But N.C. State couldn’t avoid its second straight loss and first loss to Syracuse since 2013. Finley, who completed 26 of 44 passes and had three touchdowns, had a chance to pull out a comeback win.

“I think the defense gave us a shot down the stretch there, we were down 3,” Finley said. “We had a drive to win and we just didn’t make it happen.”

Down 44-41, the Wolfpack got the ball back with 3:12 left on its own 14-yard line. Finley missed a first-down pass to receiver Thayer Thomas and then had a dump off to Reggie Gallaspy go for no gain. On third down, Syracuse pressured Finley and his pass over the middle was picked off by Armstrong at the N.C. State 23.

The sixth win of the season qualified the Orange for a bowl game for the first time under third-year coach Dino Babers and the first time in five years. N.C. State was short-handed on offense, with three starters — running back Ricky Person, receiver Steph Louis and right tackle Justin Witt — out with injuries, while cornerback Nick McCloud was out with an injury on defense.

The Wolfpack made do on offense but needed every available body on defense. Dungey completed 27 of 38 passes for 411 yards. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. Two receivers, Sean Riley (164 yards) and Nykeim Johnson (136) finished with 100-yard games.

“They’ve got an explosive offense and they played well, so give them credit,” Finley said.

Dungey was benched late in Syracuse’s overtime win over North Carolina last week. There was some question of whether he would start this week against the Wolfpack after his backup, Tommy DeVito, threw three touchdowns to lead the Orange to a 40-37 comeback win against UNC.

DeVito played sparingly (2 of 3, 21 yards) and wasn’t a factor. Dungey had Syracuse’s breathing fire early.

Finley hit receiver Emeka Emezie for a 67-yard touchdown at 9:44 in the first quarter to give the Wolfpack a brief 7-3 lead. The Orange scored three straight touchdowns to take a 24-7 advantage by the end of the quarter. Dungey connected with Johnson for an 82-yard touchdown and then set up a short touchdown run with a 45-yard strike to Jamal Custis.

Custis, a big 6-5 target, got matched up on N.C. State defensive back Tanner Ingle (who is 5-10) and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Dungey for a 24-7 lead. Down 24-10, after the first of two short field goals by freshman kicker Chris Dunn, the Wolfpack got back in the game after a bad penalty by Syracuse’s special teams.

A roughing the punter call gave N.C. State a second chance, after the Syracuse defense had forced a three-and-out. Finley took advantage of the new opportunity and hit Harmon for a 74-yard touchdown.

Syracuse scored on its first two possessions in the second half and led 34-20 and 41-27 before the defense was able to get a stop and give Finley a chance to win the game.

“It really played out how you would want it to at the end where you got the ball with 3 minutes.,” Doeren said. “Go down and win the game. To their credit, they stopped us.”

In a game full of passing yards and big plays, it was one defensive takeaway that made the difference.