NC State has plenty of reasons to take this struggling ECU football team seriously

NC State’s Doeren: ‘I love these guys and I am proud of them’

NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's overtime victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.
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NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's overtime victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

The premise is logical. N.C. State senior Garrett Bradbury is just not buying the premise.

N.C. State expended so much emotional energy in last week’s overtime win over rival North Carolina, it will be difficult for the Wolfpack (8-3) to get cranked back for East Carolina (3-8) on Saturday.

That’s an ECU team without a head coach -- Scottie Montgomery was fired on Thursday -- and possibly without freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers, who injured his knee in last week’s 56-6 loss to Cincinnati.

“No one will have a problem getting up for this game emotionally,” said Bradbury, N.C. State’s center and one of six Wolfpack players to make the All-ACC team earlier this week.

“It’s the last game of the season. It’s the last time we will play on that field. It’s definitely a game of ‘lasts.’ There’s no reason anyone should not get up for the game.”

ECU’s bowl game

N.C. State will likely need an emotional buzz for the Pirates, who play their best when they see either Wolfpack red or Carolina blue.

The highlight of Montgomery’s three-year tenure came in 2016, in his second game, when the Pirates knocked off N.C. State, 33-30 in Greenville.

In September, ECU pasted the Tar Heels, 41-19 in Greenville. Other wins were more difficult to come by for Montgomery, who finished with a 9-26 overall mark and only four American Athletic Conference wins (with 20 losses) in three seasons.

Defensive coordinator David Blackwell will be ECU’s interim coach on Saturday. The Pirates won their last visit to Carter-Finley Stadium (42-28 in 2013) and have won three in a row over the Wolfpack, going back to 2010.

East Carolina players, including Yiannis Bowden (10), celebrate as time runs out in the game during ECU’s 33-30 victory over N.C. State at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 10. 2016. Ethan Hyman

Even with everything going on at ECU, Bradbury expects ECU’s best shot.

“We know what their record is,” Bradbury said. “We know they don’t have anything postseason to play for, so this is really their bowl game. This is it for them. They have no reason but to lay everything on the line on Saturday.”

There’s more at stake for the Wolfpack. With a win, N.C. State would move into position to play in either the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28 or the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 31.

Another loss to the Pirates would drop the Wolfpack significantly further down the ACC bowl totem pole.

Individual milestones

There are some individual milestones in play for running back Reggie Gallaspy (792 rushing yards) and receiver Jakobi Meyers (865 receiving yards).

Gallaspy needs 208 yards to be the third different back to rush for 1,000 yards in three years for N.C. State. The program went from 2002 until 2016 without a 1,000-yard rusher.

NC State's Reggie Gallaspy Jr. celebrates the overtime victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov 24, 2018.

Meyers would be the second receiver with 1,000 yards (junior Kelvin Harmon has 1,119). N.C. State has never had two receivers hit the 1,000-yard mark in the same season.

Both Harmon and Meyers made the first-team All-ACC, which was the first time any school has had a pair of receivers on the first team.

There’s also the matter of trying to win 10 games. N.C. State has only hit double-digits in wins (11 in 2002) once in 127 seasons of playing college football. It would need to win on Saturday and then in the bowl game to get to that plateau.

That would be another notch for the group of fifth-year seniors in the program. This will be the fifth straight bowl for the Wolfpack under coach Dave Doeren and its 11-5 ACC record since 2017 is tied for second-best in the conference.

Payback wins

It would also be a measure of payback for the painful 2016 loss in Greenville. N.C. State lost six games that season. Five of those teams were on N.C. State’s schedule this season.

N.C. State is 3-1 against those teams, with the lone loss to Clemson. It has already paid back wins over Boston College, Louisville and Florida State.

That’s all on the backburner, though.

“For us it’s about finishing and finishing for our seniors,” Doeren said.

It’s even the rare mulligan at “Senior Day.” Since this game was added after each team had a game canceled by Hurricane Florence on Sept. 15, N.C. State went ahead with its regularly-scheduled Senior Day on Nov. 8. It lost that game 27-23 to Wake Forest.

Bradbury said the first Senior Day felt weird.

“Senior Day is supposed to be the last time playing at home, last time playing in front of your fans,” Bradbury said. “We knew that wasn’t the case. This is for real.”

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