After a big jump in the College Football Playoff rankings, N.C. State had plans for a major bowl appearance.
Wake Forest scotched those plans on Thursday with another stunning win over No. 14 N.C. State.
The Demon Deacons, down for all but the final 30 seconds of the game, got a late 32-yard touchdown catch from tight end Jack Freudenthal to shock the Wolfpack, 27-23.
After moving up seven spots in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, N.C. State (6-3, 3-3 ACC) had a chance to play in a major, New Year’s day bowl game for the first time in school history.
The Wolfpack needed some help to get to either the Peach or Fiesta bowl but it also forgot the most important part: taking care of its own business.
As a 19-point favorite at home, where it had been unbeaten this season, N.C. State couldn’t get the job done. There were too many empty red-zone trips, too many dropped passes and too many big plays allowed on defense.
“To say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “Obviously, as the head coach, I take responsibility any time my team doesn’t play the way it can.”
A sluggish start on “Senior Night,” and perhaps magnified of the pressure of the CFP rankings, left the Wolfpack flat in the first half and then was unable to hold off an undermanned but determined Wake Forest (5-5, 2-4 ACC) in the fourth quarter.
This is the same Wake Forest team that handed N.C. State a 30-24 loss in Winston-Salem last season, which was the Wolfpack’s biggest disappointment of the 2017 season.
This loss will rival that one. If for no other reason, N.C. State usually beats Wake in Raleigh. Since 1986, the Wolfpack had won 15 of 16 against the Deacs at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Wake, with Boston College one of the regular thorns in N.C. State’s side, left Doeren without an explanation for the costly loss.
“Was it the talk of what we could end up being?” Doeren said. “Was it the talk of the seniors and three offensive linemen being seniors and being emotional at the beginning of the game? I’m not sure.”
The Deacs, down 13-3 at the half and 23-13 in the fourth quarter, just kept hanging around.
“Every time that thing was on the brink of getting away from us, we just did one thing to stay in it,” Wake coach Dave Clawson said.
Sophomore quarterback Jamie Newman threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns. His poise on Wake’s eight-play, 80-yard game-winning drive was remarkable for a first-time starter.
Freshman Sam Hartman had started the first nine games of the season for Wake until he was injured late in last Saturday’s loss to Syracuse.
Newman got the ball back with 1:39, down 23-20, and proceeded to take what N.C. State’s defense was willing to give him.
He completed four of his first six passes on the drive, three to freshman receiver Sage Surratt (eight catches, 109 yards).
After a tipped pass to Surratt was incomplete on first down from the N.C. State 32-yard line, Newman went to Freudenthal for the first time all game.
Freudenthal caught the ball over the middle and then Wake receiver Alex Bachman was able to knock off two N.C. State defenders on a block.
“We run a blitz and had a bust,” Doeren said. “We had our safety there to tackle it and he ran into somebody.”
All alone, Freudenthal ran into the end zone for the winning score with 30 seconds left.
N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley (374 yards) got one last gasp, from midfield but it was intercepted at the 2-yard line by Scotty Washington.
Junior receiver Kelvin Harmon had a career-best 15 catches for N.C. State, for 134 yards, but he wasn’t targeted in the red zone.
N.C. State couldn’t run the ball on Wake’s defense, which had entered the game No. 115 in the country against the run. The Wolfpack finished with 47 yards on 27 carries.
N.C. State’s biggest problems were in the red zone. Three times it had to settle for three short field goals, instead of being able to score a touchdown.
“We had a lot of opportunities in that game, a lot of opportunities,” Doeren said.
N.C. State hasn’t had many opportunities like this one in its history, to play in a New Year’s bowl on college football’s biggest stage.
This one is gone now. Wake Forest did them in again.