N.C. State took another early lead on Florida State, and this time the Seminoles didn’t have Jameis Winston to save them.
Turns out Florida State didn’t need a former Heisman Trophy winner, just Sean Maguire. A little help from running back Dalvin Cook didn’t hurt, either.
The backup quarterback threw for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead No. 19 Florida State to a 34-17 comeback win over N.C. State on Saturday afternoon.
N.C. State sacked FSU starter Everett Golson on the first play from scrimmage and forced a fumble deep in FSU territory. The Wolfpack also picked off the Notre Dame transfer twice. After a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jacoby Brissett with 24 seconds left in the first quarter, the Wolfpack had a 17-7 lead.
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“It was a heck of a fast start,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said.
It was reminiscent of last year’s game in Raleigh when N.C. State got out to a 24-7 lead in the first quarter. Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in this past NFL draft and the 2013 Heisman winner, led an FSU rally that ended with the top-ranked team winning 56-41.
I mean we’ve got to win the game. They did a really good job of battling back when they were down. We’ve got to find a way to finish the game out.
N.C. State quarterback Jacoby Brissett
This year, it was Maguire’s turn. After Golson’s second interception, Florida State (8-2, 6-2) coach Jimbo Fisher turned to Maguire, who had started the previous two games.
N.C. State senior safety Hakim Jones noticed an uptick in the volume from the late-arriving crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium when Maguire subbed in the game.
“When he came in the game, the fans went crazy,” Jones said.
So did Florida State’s offense. The Seminoles outscored the Wolfpack 27-0 after Maguire replaced Golson with 7:32 left in the second quarter.
On Maguire’s first series, the Noles drove 64 yards in six plays, capped by a 30-yard touchdown run by Cook, who finished with 138 yards despite leaving the game twice in the first half with injuries.
Cook’s second touchdown cut N.C. State’s lead to 17-14 and then Roberto Aguayo tied the game with a 40-yard field goal before the end of the half.
Doeren has spent a good chunk of the season reminding his players of the importance of playing four quarters and learning from last year’s loss to FSU. Doeren told his players at the half that they needed to play 30 more minutes “as good or better than we just did,” but he he didn’t mention last year’s game.
“Everybody was fired up coming out in the second half,” Doeren said “We just didn’t make the plays that we needed to make in the third quarter.”
But Maguire and FSU’s defense did. After another Aguayo field goal gave the Noles a 20-17 lead, FSU forced N.C. State’s only turnover of the game on the next possession.
N.C. State finished with five takeaways, and a plus-four turnover margin, but it was the one giveaway that cost them.
FSU safety Javien Elliott stripped N.C. State running back Jaylen Samuels at the N.C. State 44-yard line where Derwin James recovered the fumble.
Two plays later, Maguire found receiver Kermit Whitfield for a 27-yard touchdown and a 27-17 lead at 7:57 in the third quarter.
N.C. State was only able to convert FSU’s five turnovers into 10 points, and all in the first half.
“When you play a team like that, you have to make a lot of plays to beat them,” Doeren said.
N.C. State’s defense forced two turnovers, an interception and a fumble, after Whitfield’s first touchdown but the offense struggled against FSU’s front seven.
Running room was scarce and the Wolfpack really missed leading rusher Matt Dayes. N.C. State was only able to rush for 79 yards on 31 attempts. Dayes, who averaged 108.1 rushing yards per game, hurt his foot in a 56-41 loss to Clemson on Oct. 31 and is out for the rest of the season.
Just the threat of Cook helped create room for Maguire, who was more decisive than Golson and used some quicker routes to hold up the N.C. State’s defensive front that dominated in the first half.
“We just didn’t have the same ability to get to the quarterback, really, in the second half,” Doeren said.
Maguire tacked on a 45-yard touchdown to Whitfield in the fourth quarter to give the Seminoles their fifth straight home win over the Wolfpack.
For N.C. State, the previous two trips here had ended with a 49-17 loss in 2013 and a 34-0 defeat in 2011. Getting closer, and being more competitive with what has been the ACC’s top program, was no consolation for the Wolfpack.
“I mean we’ve got to win the game,” Brissett said. “They did a really good job of battling back when they were down. We’ve got to find a way to finish the game out.”
For two straight years against FSU it wasn’t the start that cost the Wolfpack but the finish.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio