For Scottie Montgomery, this was just the beginning. He’s officially an East Carolina coach now, tacking another ACC win onto the streak of five straight Ruffin McNeill left behind. His debut season may be rough at times, but he’ll have this moment.
For Dave Doeren, this 33-30 loss was the end, or the beginning of the end, at least. There’s no excuse for an N.C. State performance marred by errors, penalties and coaching blunders that cost the Wolfpack a game it easily could, and probably should, have won.
Four seasons in, his cupboard no longer bare, and Doeren can’t beat East Carolina in what’s likely to be a rebuilding year for the Pirates. He’s 0-2 against East Carolina and five of his six ACC wins have come against Boston College, Syracuse or Wake Forest. Of his 19 total wins, there is exactly one of note: At North Carolina in 2014, against one of the worst defenses in ACC history, after which he orated like the Wolfpack had stormed the beaches of Normandy.
Montgomery, in all of two games at East Carolina, has as many signature wins.
Doeren may not be going anywhere soon – athletic director Debbie Yow is exceedingly unlikely to make a change before she’s scheduled to retire after the 2018 season, unless the Wolfpack completely implodes – but it’s unrealistic at this point to expect things to get dramatically better than this mediocrity. Doeren continues to provide no evidence that change is on the horizon.
State fans will complain about the officiating, with the screen-grabs to back it up, but the Wolfpack screwed things up itself long before the officials did. State’s defense struggled to contain what was essentially the Duke offense run by a vagabond transfer quarterback at his third school. UNC-Pembroke transfer Connor Haskins missed two field goals before getting the hook. Penalties were endemic, including a sideline violation that extended an East Carolina touchdown drive.
But in a game the Wolfpack lost by three points, Doeren himself left at least four points on the field.
After a second-quarter touchdown, Doeren called for the gimmick conversion used by North Carolina, but not previously N.C. State, where the kicking team starts out spread across the field before moving into kicking formation in an attempt to go for a quick two. Which is what N.C. State tried, kicker Kyle Bambard throwing a pass that Clark Eyers dropped.
One point declined.
“I thought it was a good play call,” Doeren said. “We just didn’t execute it.”
Doeren then called for a third-quarter fake field goal instead of a 28-yard chip shot, with punter A.J. Cole running the option with Bambard. Montgomery said the Pirates were prepared for that call. It showed.
Three points squandered.
“They had a look, we thought we had it,” Doeren said. “They lined up in it, and we didn’t block the guy we thought we should have blocked.”
It’s terrible how this program keeps letting Doeren down.
State would get those three points back quickly, with Bambard connecting from similar distance after an East Carolina interception, a microcosm of a game filled with big plays and bigger errors.
Whichever team lost was going to be able to point to a handful of missed opportunities and botched plays, dropped touchdown passes and questionable penalties and defensive miscues. At least if East Carolina had lost, the big mistakes were made by the players. State’s biggest errors were made by its coach.
The Tom O’Brien era at N.C. State ended not when he was fired in November 2012 but two years earlier, when the Wolfpack lost at Maryland with Russell Wilson at quarterback and a chance to play for the ACC title with a win. Torrey Smith delivered the fatal blow to O’Brien’s tenure that freezing night in College Park, even if it lingered for another two seasons.
On a sizzling afternoon in Greenville, Saturday was a program-changer for both sides. Montgomery got his purple-and-gold baptism over an in-state ACC opponent, while Doeren opened the door to a long, bitter slog to what now appears to be an inevitable end.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock