Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is to get what exactly what you want.
N.C. State wanted to keep the ball away from Georgia Tech’s offense. For a bizarre, 25-play sequence, the Wolfpack did just that. The Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 24 by the College Football Playoff committee, got a pair of touchdowns anyway to fuel a 56-23 ACC road win against N.C. State on Saturday.
The Wolfpack (5-5, 1-5 ACC) ran 25 straight plays on offense and had the ball for 11 straight minutes of game time, but during that stretch, Georgia Tech extended its lead from 14-13 to 28-13 with a pair of defensive touchdowns.
“That wasn’t how I wanted it to happen, obviously,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “We had a plan, it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.
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“I credit them for making some plays on defense to change the game.”
Three turnovers in the second quarter squashed the Wolfpack’s chances to clinch bowl eligibility. Instead, the loss sunk N.C. State into the wrong side of the record book. The 33-point margin was the Wolfpack’s worst home loss since a 37-0 loss to Maryland in 2007. It was also the Wolfpack’s seventh straight ACC home loss and its 13th loss in 14 ACC games.
There was a reason this game got out of hand following a 49-3 stretch by the Yellow Jackets after N.C. State led 13-7 with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Georgia Tech is really good,” junior defensive end Mike Rose said. “I know they’re ranked, there’s a reason. We had a point where we had momentum on our side and we just lost momentum and we lost a little bit of focus.”
The Yellow Jackets finished with 479 rushing yards, despite being off the field for so long in the second quarter and coach Paul Johnson’s decision to pull his first-string after the third quarter.
N.C. State looked like it was about to take another lead before the second quarter went sideways. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett tried to find receiver Bryan Underwood at the 2-yard line. The ball bounced out of Underwood’s hands, kicked up off of Georgia Tech cornerback Chris Milton’s foot before it hit the ground and into the hands of linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
Nealy streaked through the N.C. State offense and down the left sideline to the N.C. State 30-yard line. Wolfpack running back Jaylen Samuels hustled and tracked down Nealy and stripped the ball from him.
“I didn’t want him to score,” Samuels said.
Nealy didn’t on that play – N.C. State’s offense got the ball back at its own 28 – but two plays later, Brissett threw an interception that D.J. White returned 38 yards for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead at 9:26 in the second quarter.
On the next series, linebacker Tyler Marcordes sacked Brissett from behind and forced a fumble which Nealy scooped and returned 43 yards for a touchdown and 28-13 advantage.
After a subsequent three-and-out by N.C. State’s offense, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas came back on the field at 4:02 in the second quarter. Thomas promptly led a vintage Paul Johnson drive: nine plays, 48 yards, zero passes and a 2-yard touchdown run by the backup quarterback.
Brissett led the Wolfpack with 213 passing yards and 77 rushing yardsone touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown, but he also turned the ball over three times and there were a litany of drops by different receivers in the first half.
Brissett had been beaten up, taking a shot to the ribs on Marcordes’ sack which kept him on the ground for an extended period.
Like the 41-0 loss at Clemson earlier in the season, Brissett stayed in the game and the Wolfpack kept plugging away until the end. Brissett’s lone touchdown pass came with 7:05 left, a 19-yarder to tight end David J. Grinnage.
There was at least some encouragement there, the players insisted, even if the afternoon was a loss otherwise.
“I’m just glad we didn’t give up,” Rose said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on. We kept trying to make plays. At the end of the day, that’s all you can do.”