Playing without three seniors starters didn’t stop N.C. State from emphatically capping off one of its most successful football seasons in two decades on Friday.
Behind a dominant offense, paced by junior running back Nyheim Hines and junior wide receiver Stephen Louis, N.C. State whipped Arizona State 52-31 to win the Sun Bowl.
N.C. State (9-4) posted its most wins in a season since going 9-4 in 2010. It’s just the third season with nine wins or more for N.C. State since 1994.
Hines ran for three touchdowns and gained 73 rushing yards for the Wolfpack while Louis amassed 115 receiving yards. Quarterback Ryan Finley completed 24 of 29 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown.
N.C. State wide receiver Jaylen Samuels caught seven passes, giving him 202 career receptions to set the school record. Jerricho Cotchery, who played from 2000-03, previously held the record with 200.
The Wolfpack won despite defensive end Bradley Chubb, right guard Tony Adams and cornerback Mike Stevens sitting out the game. Adams and Stevens cited injuries. Chubb, an All-American and the ACC defensive player of the year, said he skipped the game to focus on his NFL future.
Their absences didn’t slow the Wolfpack one bit against the overmatched Sun Devils (7-6).
N.C. State took control of the game in the first half, scoring touchdowns on four of its five possessions. Hines was responsible for three of them, all coming on f5-yard runs.
His first score, with 2:40 left in the first half, capped a 15-play, 87-yard drive that put the Wolfpack up 7-0. Finley completed six passes on the drive to gain 47 yards.
Hines scored from 5 yards out again with 14:13 left in the second quarter to put the Wolfpack up 14-0.
An N.C. State roughing the punter penalty allowed an Arizona State drive that appeared over to continue. The Sun Devils turned the break into a 24-yard Brandon Ruiz field goal that left the Wolfpack up 14-3.
N.C. State responded in strong fashion, with Finley completing a 40-yard pass to Louis. Hines ran 5 yards for his third touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 21-3 lead.
Arizona State’s lone touchdown drive of the first half was highlighted by wide receiver N’Keal Harry’s one-handed catch for a 37-yard gain. Harry added a much easier 6-yard touchdown catch slicing N.C. State’s lead to 21-10.
The Sun Devils attempted an onside kick, but the Wolfpack recovered at the Arizona State 49 with 2:07 left until halftime. The Wolfpack needed a little over a minute to reach the end zone as Jakobi Meyers scored on a 25-yard catch and run of a Finley pass to give N.C. State a 28-10 halftime lead.
Even without Chubb, the ACC’s sacks leader with 10 this season, the Wolfpack recorded three sacks against Arizona State while also forcing four turnovers.
Sophomore Nick McCloud, starting in place of Stevens, returned an interception 53 yards to set up an N.C. State field goal in the third quarter. Wolfpack sophomore safety Jarius Morehead intercepted a pass and recovered an Arizona State fumble.
N.C. State’s lead grew to 38-10 on Reggie Gallaspy’s 23-yard touchdown run with 14:54 left in the fourth quarter. Arizona State’s Wilkins ran for a touchdown and threw for another to cut the Wolfpack lead to 38-24.
Samuels added a 2-yard touchdown run while Gallasby closed the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run.