CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH Hopes are high for a better season at N.C. State, where Dave Doeren is in his second year at the helm after a 3-9 first campaign.
Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is the junior starting quarterback, hoping to bring back the signal-calling glory days in West Raleigh.
The season-opening opponent is Georgia Southern, a traditional 1-AA power now in its first season as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference. The Eagles, who won an upset at Florida last season, have a new coach in Willie Fritz.
It’s going to be a hot and sunny one, although temperatures are supposed to stay below 90.
The Wolfpack starts slow but Brissett gets better and better as the game progresses, leading a pair of must-score fourth quarter drives in a 24-23 victory.
The Eagles get some early lightning, as Matthew Brieda bursts up the middle for a 61-yard TD run to complete a six-play, 82-yard march. Alex Hanks adds the kick at 9:07 of the first.
State responds with a 41-yard Niklas Sade field goal, capping an 11-play, 51-yard drive at 4:52.
GSU makes it 10-3 with 8:35 left on Hanks’ 32-yard field goal, four plays after Caleb Williams intercepts a Brissett pass and returns it 28 yards to the 15.
Sade misses a 52-yard field goal at the 5:45 mark.
And the Eagles make it 17-3 at the half, following a 29-yard connection from Kevin Ellison to Kentrellis Showers with 34 seconds left. Hanks’ kick punctuates the 11-play, 65-yard drive.
Sade misses a 54-yard try at the halftime buzzer.
The Wolfpack halves the lead on Brissett’s six-yard toss to Bra’Lon Cherry followed by a Sade conversion with 8:02 left in the third. The key play of the five-play, 80-yard march is Brissett’s 42-yard connection to Jaylen Samuels at the GSU 21.
GSU takes the lead to 10 with 3:23 left in the period, as Hanks’ 19-yard field goal finishes a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
State doesn’t convert on fourth-and-1 from the GSU 9 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Wolfpack gets a break with 11:03 left when Monty Nelson recovers an Ellison fumble at the State 1.
What follows is a 12-play, 99-yard march ending in Brissett’s 11-yard TD pass to a wide-open Cherry and Sade’s kick to make it 20-17 at 6:55.
Hanks’ 31-yard field goal at 3:35 leaves the door cracked just a bit.
And the Wolfpack goes 75 yards in nine plays, with Brissett’s eighth completion of the drive a 35-yarder to Matt Dayes along the right sideline. Sade’s kick makes it 24-23 with 1:37 left.
Jarvis Byrd’s interception kills the visitors’ final drive, and the home fans go home happy.
Brissett completes 28 of 40 for 291 yards and three TDs with an interception. Bo Hines catches nine passes for 85 yards for the Wolfpack, Dayes six for 70. Shadrach Thornton rushes 10 times for 73 yards.
Ellison completes nine of 16 passes for 184 yards and the TD while also rushing 20 times for 116 yards.
They said it …
State coach Dave Doeren: “Their defensive kids were tired (in the fourth quarter). I don’t know how many fall-downs they had in the second half, but that was ridiculous. They kept falling down to stop our drives and we kept going and going and going and going. That 99-yard drive was a back-breaker, especially after the turnover.”
Brissett: “The last drive was great. I was pretty calm that whole time. Our offensive line did a great job, and after the game I couldn’t even tell them how proud I was of them. They came out and played their tails off, and the playmakers made plays toward the end. That’s what we’ve been stressing over the summer, and they came out and did what they were supposed to do.”
Byrd: “(The final defensive play) was like a dream come true. I second-guessed myself for coming back this season (after three ACL surgeries), but I didn’t want to have any regrets. I got tears when I made that play, to tell you the truth.”
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack’s season is off on the right foot.
Stars of the game 1. Brissett.
Play of the game
Brissett’s TD pass to Dayes.
NCSU: Won 1.
GSU: Lost 1.
State leads 1-0.
N.C. State vs. Old Dominion, Sept. 6, 6 p.m.
Georgia Southern vs. Savannah State, Sept. 6, 6 p.m.