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This isn’t how NC State wanted this season to end. Texas A&M blows out Pack in Gator Bowl.

NC State’s Doeren: ‘Bottom line is they played better than we did; they coached better than we did’

NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's loss to Texas A&M Aggies in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.
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NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's loss to Texas A&M Aggies in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.

It took the SEC’s leading rusher a while to get going, but once Trayveon Williams got warmed up there wasn’t much N.C. State could do to stop him in the Gator Bowl Monday.

Williams recorded his ninth 100-yard game of the season, rushing for 236 yards and three touchdowns as the Aggies defeated the Wolfpack 52-13 at TIAA Bank Field.

N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley threw two interceptions -- his second was returned 78-yards for a touchdown by Tyrel Dodson -- and the Wolfpack gave up 45 unanswered points after leading by six in the second quarter. The 52 points were the most scored on the Wolfpack since Louisville scored 54 in 2016.

“You have to give Texas A&M a lot of credit,” N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said. “They played well in the second half. We hung in there in the first half. It’s 21-13 coming out in the third quarter and the game just got away from us, we weren’t able to get back into it. For us, it’s on all on us, it’s not the players fault, not the coaches fault, it’s all of our faults and we own it that way.”

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley talks about the loss to Texas A&M in Finley's last game for the Wolfpack in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.

N.C. State (9-3) went scoreless in the third quarter and only managed 92 yards on three drives. Texas A&M (9-4) took a 22-point lead into the fourth and final quarter of the season.

Dodson’s interception made it 28-13. Then Williams single-handedly broke the backs of the Wolfpack. Williams got all five touches on the third quarter drive, covering 38, 5, 3, 18 and the final 17 yards for a score to make it 35-13with 2:30 remaining in the third.

Williams saved his best for last. On his first carry of the fourth quarter, the Houston native broke free on the right sideline for a 93-yard touchdown, giving him 236 yards on 18 carries with 13:56 remaining in the game and a 42-13 lead. The 93-yard run was the second longest touchdown run in Gator Bowl history. The 236 yards by Williams were the most yards the Wolfpack had surrendered to a running back since Thomas Jones of Virginia rushed for 221 in 1999.

GATORBOWL14-123118-EDH.jpg
Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams (5) scores on a 17-yard touchdown run as he runs past N.C. State safety Dexter Wright (14) during the second half of Texas A&M’s 52-13 victory over N.C. State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Not only was N.C. State unable to stop Williams, but they had a hard time protecting Finley, who was sacked twice and pressured several other times.

The senior from Phoenix, concluded his Wolfpack career with 139 passing yards and one touchdown.

“Not the ending that we wanted, but so many awesome things came from this season,” Finley said. “Just a lot to be proud of.”

It was also the final game for running back Reggie Gallaspy, who led N.C. State with 79 yards on the ground. It was a combination of Gallaspy and freshman Ricky Person Jr. who got the Wolfpack rolling on their second offensive drive of the game, combining for 40 rushing yards on eight carries in a drive that resulted in a field goal

But the star of the day was Williams, who averaged 12.4 yards per carry.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” Jarius Morehead said. “They’ve got a good team, both on offense and defense. We just laid an egg again.”

Texas A&M found the end zone for the game’s first score after just two plays. Quarterback Kellen Mond kept it himself, covering 62-yards, racing past the Wolfpack defense.

N.C. State’s defense, though, would buckle down for the rest of the quarter. After the opening Aggies’ drive, which covered 71 yards, A&M would only pick up 48 yards on its next three offensive possessions.

N.C. State used that time to score 13 points. After going three and out on their opening drive, the Wolfpack got on the board thanks to a 43-yard field goal by Christopher Dunn. They then took advantage of an interception by 330-pound defensive tackle Eurndraus Bryant and N.C. State started their third offensive possession on the A&M 27-yard line.

The Wolfpack ended the drive with a Ryan Finley 9-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Riley, who snagged the ball with one hand in the corner of the end zone. The Wolfpack scored on the ensuing drive, another Dunn field goal, this one a career-long shot from 49-yards.

“We got into a rhythm early and were moving the ball well at times,” Finley said.

The N.C State defense, strong through the end of the first and the opening drive of the second quarter, started surrendering big plays to Texas A&M, which scored 14 straight to end the first half. On the Aggies’ second offensive drive, the Wolfpack forced a turnover on downs, stopping A&M on fourth and one.

But the Aggies found something they liked, mainly huge holes for Williams.

“They just kept figuring out what was working,” Morehead said. “We just couldn’t get it done, couldn’t stop it.”

Williams, the SEC rushing leader, was held to nine rushing yards on his first six attempts, before bursting down the right side for a gain of 30 on 2nd and 10 on A&M’s third drive of the second quarter. That set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Williams, giving the Aggies a 14-13 lead after the successful extra point. N.C. State’s offense went cold, going three and out on consecutive drives.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M managed to put together a 72-yard, 11-play drive, this one ending in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Mond to Kendrick Rogers, who used every inch of his 6-4 frame to bring down the pass, giving the Aggies a 21-13 halftime lead.

Coming into the game, Doeren was 1-4 against A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher in head-to-head matchups against Flordia State, but drops to 1-5 in his first match up with Fisher at his new gig. State also falls to 1-3 versus the SEC under Doeren, the only win coming against Vanderbilt in the 2016 Independence Bowl.

“Bottom line is they played better than we did,” Doeren said. “They coached better than we did and I’ll own that.”

The Wolfpack fell short of their goal to win 10 games for just the second time in school history, and broke a two-game bowl winning streak.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported where 52 points by an opponent rank in N.C. State history.

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.
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