There were a lot of punts (13) and sacks (11) in N.C. State’s 16-10 win over Syracuse on Thursday night.
Instead of the usual “five key plays” from the game, here are three plays that turned the tide in the Wolfpack’s favor for its first ACC win of the season:
1. “Wake County Special” redux
Score: N.C. State 6, Syracuse 0
Time: 1:23, second quarter
Field position: first and 10 at the Syracuse 32
Rewind to the second game of the 2018 season. N.C. State ran a trick play with receiver Thayer Thomas throwing a 56-yard pass to running back Trent Pennix against Georgia State. Since all trick plays need a nickname, “Wake County Special” was appropriate with Thomas, from Heritage high school, and Pennix, from Sanderson.
Fast forward to Thursday night. Thomas and Pennix were at it again. It was drawn up slightly different this time. Actually, Thomas said, the Wolfpack coaches picked up on the play after Duke ran it for a 30-yard touchdown in its win at Virginia Tech on Sept. 27.
Smart move. Nice work by N.C. State playcaller and co-coordinator Des Kitchings.
Receiver Tabari Hines came in motion towards the N.C. State sideline, where Thomas was split wide. Quarterback Bailey Hockman threw a quick lateral to Thomas, who was a yard behind Hockman. Then Thomas found Pennix, who leaked out of the backfield, all alone on the other side of the field.
“When he’s that wide open, I just try to put it on him so he can run in,” Thomas said. “I knew one thing I couldn’t do is overthrow him because that would just be a waste of a play.”
It went for a 32-yard touchdown and gave N.C. State a 13-0 lead right before the end of the first half. It turned out to be the only time N.C. State would get into the end zone and ultimately the game-deciding points.
2. A break from Syracuse’s defense
Score: N.C. State 13, Syracuse 0
Time: 4:28, third quarter
Field position: third and goal at the Syracuse 6
Sometimes it’s not the plays you make but the ones your opponent doesn’t.
This was one of those times for N.C. State, which had been dominant up to this point but only had a 13-point lead to show for it.
After an incredibly bone-headed unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by senior safety Antwan Cordy on third down to extend the drive and give N.C. State first and goal from the 6, Bam Knight was stopped for a one-yard loss on first down. This is the exact kind of short-yardage play where N.C. State misses tight end Dylan Autenrieth, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
On second down, Hockman made a strong throw across the field for receiver Emeka Emezie. Emezie led N.C. State with five catches for 77 yards. He had his hands on this pass but cornerback Scoop Bradshaw knocked it away. That’s the kind of play Emezie, if he wants to be a No. 1 receiver (and eventually play in the NFL, like his former teammates Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers) needs to make.
On third down, Hockman got greedy and tried to force a throw to the back left corner of the end zone to Emezie. The throw actually went directly to safety Evan Foster, who somehow dropped the sure interception.
Chris Dunn came on to kick his third field goal, a 23-yarder. N.C. State was lucky Foster dropped what was a poor decision by Hockman and the Orange didn’t have the ball down 13-0.
3. One more sack
Score: N.C. State 16, Syracuse 10
Time: :17, fourth quarter
Field position: third and 7 at the N.C. State 44
Syracuse got the ball back at its own 24-yard line with 1:48 left but without any timeouts. That’s a lot of time, with college football clock rules, if the Orange would have been able to avoid penalties and quarterback Tommy DeVito didn’t take any sacks.
DeVito hit his first four passes of the drive, two to receiver Sean Riley and two to running back Abdul Adams to reach the N.C. State 39-yard line.
Then the drive started to unravel for the Orange. Left tackle Carlos Vettorello committed a false start penalty, which is accompanied with a 10-second run-off in the final minute when a team is out of timeouts.
That left Syracuse with 23 seconds and on second and 7 from the N.C. State 44, DeVito missed receiver Trishton Jackson. On third down, with 17 seconds left, defensive tackle Larrell Murchison was able to beat center Airon Servais to DeVito for his second sack of the game and the eighth for N.C. State’s defense.
DeVito tried to scramble the offense back to the line of scrimmage for one more snap but right tackle Ryan Alexander was called for a false start.
N.C. State’s players were about to rush the field to celebrate when referee Riley Johnson stopped them and said: “Alright, the game is not over.”
Johnson then had a brief huddle with the other officials and a review.
Then Johnson said: “After review, the game is over.”