Thayer Thomas ran a punt back for a touchdown, Max Fisher blocked a punt to set up a touchdown and Matt McKay had two runs for scores Saturday for N.C. State.
According to McKay, the three are roommates, so the late-night discussion might have been loud and lively after the Wolfpack’s 34-23 win over Ball State at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Bragging rights among the roomies?
“I won’t take it. I’ll give it to Max,” Thomas said. “Max deserves it. He’s been busting his butt. Whatever opportunity he’s getting he makes the most of it.”
On a night when Carter-Finley had a mostly blasé game atmosphere, especially in the second half, Thomas’ return did have Wolfpack fans at full throat. So did Fisher. He got a hand on a Nathan Snyder punt, Malik Dunlap scooping up the ball and getting to the Ball State 7-yard line.
“They definitely changed the momentum of the game and we just had to capitalize,” said McKay, whose 3-yard TD run after Fisher’s block pushed the Pack ahead 34-16 in the fourth quarter.
Many a football coach has fretted over the kicking game and the Pack had a punt blocked the week before in the 44-27 beating at West Virginia. While the Pack’s kicking game wasn’t airtight Saturday -- N.C. State couldn’t corral an onside kick by the Cardinals late in the game -- N.C. State’s special teams were the difference against a Mid-American Conference team that came into Carter-Finley prepared to sling the ball around and try to score enough points to win.
“Absolutely,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “They obviously let us down big time last week and sparked us this time, so it was a great redemption.”
Trenton Gill averaged 51 yards on his three punts, with a long of 55, and had five of six kickoffs result in touchbacks. Chris Dunn converted two field goals before missing a 53-yarder. Ball State had 33 total yards on three kick returns as the Pack’s coverage teams did their part.
Thomas said his 76-yard punt return in the third quarter was his first for a TD since his Pop Warner football days. And it was Fisher who had a key block just after Thomas fielded the punt, first feinting left, then quickly cutting back to his right.
“The punter did an unusual kick, he sort of rugby-kicked it and he never did that on film,” Thomas said. “It was low and didn’t have a lot of hang time. I knew I would have the opportunity to return it.
“The funny thing is we only had 10 guys on the field at the time. We didn’t even 11 guys out there, so it was pretty crazy.”
How’s this for crazy? Thomas, a redshirt sophomore out of Heritage High in Wake Forest, said a good friend called it.
Thomas said Brock Olson, an NCSU student and former Heritage golfer, contacted him before the past two games and proved to be prescient.
“He texted before the West Virginia game and said ‘You’re going to score your first receiving touchdown,’” said Thomas, who had an 8-yard scoring catch against the Mountaineers for his first of the season.
‘He texted before this game and said I was going to take one back to the house,” Thomas said, smiling. “I’m going to have him keep texting me.”
Who knows, Thomas might run for one as the Pack (3-1) puts in its first ACC game Saturday, on the road at Florida State. He already had a touchdown pass, against West Virginia, but did misfire Saturday on a second-quarter throw to Tabari Hines as the Pack played its final nonconference game.
“Every week I feel like we’re getting better,” Thomas said. “This week of practice will be very important for us. The week of practice we just had I think was the best week of practice we’ve had all year. Guys were motivated to be better. That loss put a bad taste in our mouth. We were out there really focusing on the small details and the word of the week was ‘focus.’ This week we need to bring it up a notch because it’s ACC play.”
More big plays in the kicking game will be needed. Thomas was averaging about eight yards per punt return before Saturday. In a flash, that average now is 17.3 yards and given opponents’ special teams coaches something else to worry about in preparation.
“This offseason I really worked on my speed and getting faster and I did that,” Thomas said. “Some people might not think I’m fast but I feel like I’m pretty fast. I never really had a chance to actually show my speed but I did it tonight.”