It was right there for the Pack – beat BC and then a loss to Clemson would have been OK before beating Maryland in the final game.
But it didn't turn out that way.
Now, the task is monumental -- and people can talk all they want about the insignificance to reaching a minor bowl, it's still better to reach one that accept the alternative.
The Wolfpack, a week after holding Carolina to three yards of rushing in a shutout, limited BC to minus-2 yards of TOTAL offense in the second half while shutting the Eagles out after the break. State scored one touchdown, but Mike Glennon's end zone interception and the failure to finish off a late drive left NC State on the short end of a 14-10 score and, barring an upset of No. 9 Clemson next week, short of the bowl bid.
NC State is 5-5, with six being the normal magic number for going bowling. But State has two wins over FCS teams and you can only count one. So, State now has to beat Clemson AND Maryloand to get to seven wins.
"We got a huge task in front of us," tight end George Bryan said after the game. "Our backs are against the wall. We just have to work, put things together and play, as a team … it's about time we played as a team and started off fast and finished good."
Tom O'Brien, who saw his coaching record at State drop back to .500 (30-30), says a lack of leadership continues to haunt this team as it moves toward the finish line. Young teams often have problems with leadership, and yesterday was an example of not doing what had to be done to get the job done.
After falling behind 7-0 on a quick BC drive, State marched down the field with Mike Glennon going 7-for-8 through the air, the only incompletion a drop by T.J. Graham. But the Pack had to settle for a 32-yard field goal that made it 7-3.
"We got something going (on the field goal drive) but after that there was nothing in the first half," said O'Brien. "We just couldn't get anything else going from that point on. We came out and got stuff going after halftime, but too little too late."
James Washington scored on a 3-yard run – after a huge 32-yard completion to Quinton Payton on a third-and-4 from the BC 38, and State was on the board midway through the third quarter.
Neither team would score the rest of the way.
The end zone interception was a case of Glennon throwing the ball inside instead of out for Graham. That came after a chop block wound up costing State 20 yards on the drive, one eight penalties on the day, for 56 yards – after the Wolfpack came into the game leading the ACC and second in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game.
O'Brien saw the penalties as another sign of immaturity.
Regardless, State has to know what lies ahead.
"We have a big week ahead of us," said Glennon, who fourth-down pass from the BC 27 in the closing minutes was batted down by defensive end Max Holloway. "We're playing one of the best teams in the country and we know we have to win out -- so we just have to improve in all the aspects, finishing drives on offense, and get ready.
"Backs against the wall now. We know it and we're ready to step up to the task."
"Our backs are against the wall," added O'Brien. "We have to grow up, though – this is just a sign of immaturity in a lot of respects in this football program. You got a chance to do something, and we weren't able to do it. Kids got to grow up."