NC State

Five key plays in NC State’s win over ECU

Watch as the Wolfpack take the field before game with ECU

Watch as the NC State Wolfpack take the field before their season opening game with East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, August 31, 2019.
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Watch as the NC State Wolfpack take the field before their season opening game with East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, August 31, 2019.

As much as N.C. State fans dislike the early tailgate and kickoff times, Saturday’s 34-6 win over East Carolina was the Wolfpack’s 14th straight in a game that started at either noon or 12:30 p.m.

The next two games are scheduled to kickoff at 12:30 p.m. and noon. Here are five key (non-scoring plays) from the Wolfpack’s second straight convincing home win over the Pirates:

1. Tanner Ingle comes up big

Score: N.C. State 0, ECU 0

Time: 10:33, first quarter

Field position: first and goal at the N.C. State 9

ECU’s offense got off to a perfect start on the opening drive of the game. Sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers completed his first six passes for 47 yards and was taking the short, underneath routes N.C. State’s defense was giving him.

A 10-yard pickup by receiver Blake Proehl, on Ahlers’ sixth pass, moved ECU down to N.C. State’s 29-yard line. Darius Pinnix ran for nine yards on first down and then set up first and goal from the 9 with a short run.

Ahlers kept the ball on a read option and was headed towards the end zone. N.C. State safety Tanner Ingle made a perfect form tackle to knock the ball loose from Ahlers at the 3-yard line. The ball bounced into the end zone and a pile of players from both sides tried to jump on it.

“The ball wasn’t in the pile,” N.C. State safety Jarius Morehead said.

It was actually under the right leg of ECU left tackle D’Ante Smith.

“I guess because he had the (leg) braces on, he couldn’t feel it,” Morehead said. “So I grabbed it off his leg.”

Morehead recovered the fumble in the end zone. Instead of ECU scoring on its opening drive, and taking a 7-0 lead, N.C. State had the ball and started its drive at its own 20-yard line.

2. Smart start for Matt McKay

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N.C. State quarterback Matt McKay prepares to pass during the first half of N.C. State’s game against East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Score: N.C. State 0, ECU 0

Time: 9:57, first quarter

Field position: second and 6 at the N.C. State 24

After a 4-yard run by Ricky Person on its offensive first play of the season, N.C. State coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald gave new quarterback Matt McKay a chance to attempt his first pass.

McKay was given a read-pass option. When he noticed ECU safety Daniel Charles was six yards off of receiver Thayer Thomas in the slot, he quickly got the ball out to Thomas on a slant.

Thomas, playing in the slot role that was so productive for Jakobi Meyers and Jaylen Samuels, turned the short pass into an 18-yard gain. It was an easy pitch-and-catch and a smart way to get McKay into the flow of the game.

McKay found Thomas for another 19-yard gain on the opening drive and a defensive pass interference penalty cost the Pirates. Freshman Bam Knight capped the efficient six-play, 80-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to give the Wolfpack a 7-0 lead.

By the time McKay’s starting debut was done with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, he had completed 25 of 37 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown.

3. James Smith-Williams’ sack of Holton Ahlers

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N.C. State’s Xavier Lyas (97), right, celebrates with James Smith-Williams (1) after Smith-Williams sacked East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers during the first half of N.C. State’s game against East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Score: N.C. State 10, ECU 3

Time: 2:33, second quarter

Field position: third and 7 at the ECU 26

Fifth-year senior defensive end James Smith-Williams was given the No. 1 jersey as a reward for his leadership. Smith-Williams was angry at himself when he was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty earlier in the second quarter which wiped out an interception by linebacker Brock Miller.

Smith-Williams made up for the error of aggression with a key third-down sack of Ahlers near the end of the quarter.

Smith-Williams lined up on Ahlers’ blind side (the left end) and bull-rushed right tackle Matt Morgan. The 6-5, 284-pound sophomore blocker didn’t have a chance against Smith-Williams, who ran through the block attempt to pull down Ahlers for a 10-yard loss at the ECU 16.

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren called timeout with 2:23 left to give his offense a chance to score and extend the lead before the end of the half.

ECU, by the way, had 75 yards on the opening drive on 12 plays or 6.25 yards per play. It had 194 yards on 62 plays the rest of the game or 3.12 yards per play.

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N.C. State offensive tackle Emanuel McGirt Jr. (74) dives on the loose ball during the first half of N.C. State’s game against East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

4. Emanuel McGirt’s hustle save

Score: N.C. State 10, ECU 3

Time: 1:44, second quarter

Field position: first and goal at the ECU 10

Tackle Emanuel McGirt came in as a highly-rated recruit out of Durham in 2015. Injuries have slowed his career but he entered his fifth and final year healthy. He made his first start on Saturday.

He had a key downfield block on a 34-yard reverse run by Tabari Hines earlier in the second quarter. His hustle was helpful on this play, too.

McKay and Person botched the exchange on the option read at the ECU 14. The ball bounced inside the 10. Three ECU defenders had a chance to recover it. ECU corner Michael Witherspoon was caught between trying to scoop the ball up and falling on it and ended up doing neither.

McGirt dove on the loose ball at the 4 to recover it for the Wolfpack. It was very similar to Ahlers’ fumble on the opening drive and basically at the same spot on the field. N.C. State made both plays which added up to a 14-point swing.

After McGirt fell on the fumble, McKay scored on a 4-yard run on the next play to give the Wolfpack a 17-3 lead with 51 seconds left in the half.

NC State receiver Tabari Hines talks about his first game for the Wolfpack after the victory over the ECU Pirates at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, August 31, 2019.

5. The return of Tabari Hines

Score: N.C. State 17, ECU 3

Time: 10:14, third quarter

Field position: third and 6 at the N.C. State 34

The last time Tabari Hines played at Carter-Finley Stadium, he had nine catches for 125 yards and a touchdown for Wake Forest in a 2016 game against N.C. State.

Hines, a graduate transfer, was making plays for the Wolfpack this time. Kitchings and McDonald creatively used him as a runner and as a receiver. Hines finished with four catches for 74 yards with a touchdown and added 34 more yards on the ground.

ECU went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half. N.C. State got the ball back and Hines delivered the dagger.

His 18-yard pickup on third down extended the drive and it was also McKay’s best throw of the day. It was a deep out, a timing route, which McKay threw from the right hash and hit Hines outside the numbers near the far sideline.

On the next play, McKay hit Hines on a wheel route down the right sideline for a 48-yard touchdown to give N.C. State a 24-3 lead and to effectively put the game away at 9:48 in the third quarter.

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