Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Florida State was out of timeouts, and NC State had third and seven as the clock ticked towards a minute to go. The ball was at the NC State 28. A run was coming. NC State was not about to stop the clock, but if Florida State prevents the Wolfpack from getting a first down then the Noles have a chance, down 27-21.
The handoff went to junior running back Nyheim Hines. He entered the fourth quarter with just 29 yards on the ground on 12 carries, but in the final 15 minutes Hines ran 12 times for 65 yards. The last 14 of them came on that third and seven run.
First down NC State, and with that there was stunned silence from what was left of 73,541 sun-soaked fans at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.
Truth be told, there was probably stunned silence all the way in Raleigh, too. NC State actually did it this time after years dominated by heartbreaks.
There would be no déjà vu from last season when NC State lets wins slip away at Clemson and to these same Seminoles at home. Even after the Pack took an inexplicable safety in the end zone on an errant snap with 6:26 left and then had a punt blocked with 3:31 left, setting up a FSU field goal, NC State overcame it.
This time, NC State finished.
“I knew that we just couldn’t let the game beat us,” senior H-back Jaylen Samuels said. “We just had to stay focus.”
The celebration was a sweet one for the Wolfpack. The whooping and hollering could be heard through the tunnels leading to NC State’s team bus. Samuels joked he had never seen head coach Dave Doeren with a face bright red in happiness.
“Just to finally pull it out it means a lot to us,” senior defensive end Bradley Chubb said.
Doeren did not shortchange what has happened. He had obviously memorized the fact that only 13 percent of the teams that play at Doak Campbell leave with a win. NC State has not done it since 2005.
“The way we prepared there was no doubt that we could win this football game,” Doeren said.
It has been a long journey for Doeren to get his first win in Tallahassee. Five years ago, the Pack fell down 35-0 before the first quarter was over. Doeren refers to that season as “year zero.”
“That was ground level,” Doeren added. “Not a lot of fun things happened that year. You try not to think a whole lot about it.”
Every year since then NC State has been knocking on the door. It jumped out to a 24-7 lead in a rematch with FSU at home the next season only to lose a shootout, 56-41. The Pack was tied 17-17 at halftime two years ago in Tallahassee before falling 34-17.
Last season was most excruciating. The Pack dictated the action for almost four quarters, but a late dropped interception opened the door for FSU to steal a 24-20 win.
“A great statement on where we’re headed,” Doeren said. “We’ve beaten a lot of teams that people think we should beat. We’ve knocked on the doors with a ton of teams and haven’t finished. Now we’ve finished. It puts closer to where we want to be.”
The win may have been sweetest for redshirt sophomore Jakobi Meyers, who was benched last week in a lopsided win over Furman because of an ineffective week of practice.
He responded by catching five passes for 112 yards and a score, a 71-yard touchdown with 1:34 left before halftime that put NC State up 17-7. No moment, perhaps, better captured the emotion of this game for the Wolfpack than Meyers doing a clean forward somersault to celebrate the score.
“I got to work on controlling my emotions cause that really hurt us in the long run,” Meyers said.
Doeren made sure to let Meyers know how immature that act was. Meyers was lucky it did not cost the Pack a touchdown. Instead it was just 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
Nevertheless, Meyers’ act was symbolic of what this win meant.
“I’m extremely excited,” Meyers said. “I am happy for the team. They worked so hard for these couple years and coming so close every year.”
Of course, there is an exception to every rule. Sure, redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley, who threw for 230 yards and two scores in the victory, was probably thrilled internally, but in typical Finley fashion, the outward emotions remained stoic.
“It was a great team win, but we’ve got a lot left to do,” Finley said.
Indeed, Doeren understands that full well. The 24-hour rule is in affect. Doeren is already lamenting to have to defend the high-octane, fast-paced air attack Syracuse will throw at the Pack next Saturday followed by playing Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Lamar Jackson and nationally-ranked Louisville on short rest the ensuing Thursday.
But that’s not going to spoil the moment.
“I’m just going to savor this one right now,” he said. “I’m very proud of the players.”
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