There was 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter and NC State was trailing by 13 points. Florida State--ranked third in the nation--was driving and another touchdown would have put the Wolfpack behind by three scores heading into the final 15 minutes.
Later, with 2:27 remaining and trailing by six, NC State had forced Florida State into a fourth down situation. With the Seminoles set to punt and one last chance to drive for a winning score, the Pack needed to conjure some magic.
NC State got the pivotal plays it needed. Both came from freshmen. The freshmen from that game are now seniors.
On Saturday against North Carolina, the Wolfpack will have three defensive starters, each with degrees from NC State, playing their final games at Carter-Finley Stadium. While the journey they have had since their first conference game at home against Florida State four seasons ago is winding down, the trio wants to go out with the same type of bang that they made in their debut and in the ensuing years.
Juston Burris picked off the E.J. Manuel pass in the closing seconds of the third quarter and Mike Rose blocked the punt that helped set up NC State for its game-winning scoring drive. Hakim Jones, who only featured as a special teams player versus Florida State, has blossomed into a trustworthy veteran that head coach Dave Doeren felt earned the coveted No. 1 jersey prior to this season.
Now all three are veterans and will look to end things the same way they began as No. 11 North Carolina visited Raleigh on Saturday.
While the paths to Senior Day may have been divergent, there is a symmetry to their first and final conference games at home.
Like the 2012 team, which had also rallied to defeat Florida State at home two seasons prior, this season’s NC State team will have some confidence knowing that the Wolfpack cruised past the Tar Heels the last time the two schools played.
“Obviously, we want the same result--coming out with a win,” Burris said. “A ranked opponent coming into our stadium, we are trying to come out and do what we do and come out with the win.
“I think that we played hard against that Florida State team. They were a good team and Carolina is a really good team too. They are really good and talented but as long as we can get after them and be productive while limiting their production we will be fine.”
Burris and Rose both have had terrific senior seasons and are earning strong consideration for All-ACC honors. For the defensive end who enters the contest against North Carolina with 11 sacks (second-best in the ACC), being named to the team is a mission.
“I am never going to be satisfied until I get what I want,” Rose said, succinctly. “I want all-conference.”
Jones has been a steadying influence in the defensive secondary and the growth over his college career as a three-year starter merited the special status afforded to him when Doeren handed him the No. 1 jersey.
“Hakim Jones has just been a guy that has bought into using his brain. In this game, I think his football IQ is extremely high,” Doeren said. “He is a very trustworthy guy back there.”
The trust earned at NC State is of special significance to the brother of former-Wolfpacker Ernest Jones. Hakim, who was the 3-A North Carolina Player of the Year after a stellar senior season at Southern Vance High School in nearby Henderson, will miss taking the field at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“It means a lot because you go blind for about five seconds until you get to the end so you never know what’s out there,” Jones said. “You just hear the noise and everyone is banging and such so just running out of that smoke gives you a huge adrenaline rush before the game.”
For Rose, there is much more at stake than personal accolades. The NC State graduate who hopes to get into NFL scouting after finishing a successful professional career of his own is intent on setting the table for future teams at his alma mater to succeed while also leaving his mark on the field one last time for his fellow graduates--who he considers to be more than just teammates.
“When we came in, we were an average team,” Rose said. “We took a dip and we have helped rebuild the program. Hopefully, we can turn it in the right direction. When was the last time we won nine games? Let’s do it again. We were just determined to win. At that point in the season we were trying to get to a better bowl and that’s what we worked for.”
“Hakim and Juston have been with me, they have seen me be a 200-plus pound linebacker,” Rose added jokingly. “Now they like to poke fun and say I got fat, but I feel like I have gotten more athletic as I have gotten bigger. I have seen them grow. We all came in together and we were all little small, scrawny kids. We have all grown to be players.”
Burris had his first career interception against Florida State four seasons ago but the graduate who is considering attending law school list his pick against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last season as his personal highlight. Like Rose and Jones, the Raleigh-native sees even brighter days ahead for the football program and he sees Saturday as a chance to take another step.
Definitely in the years to come Coach Doeren is going to have this program where it needs to be and I can already see that coming along,” Burris said. “I think the biggest thing has been leadership. It is my last time and it is big for me. We are trying to go out with the win. It would be great to do that.”
What They Are Saying
Hakim Jones on his fellow seniors: "They are like brothers to me because they are some of the few guys that came in my class--we had a 25-man class now it is about six or seven of us that came in my class--so they are just the ones I have been closest to since I have been here. I have known them for five years. Them, Alex Barr, Joe Thuney, Maurice Morgan and just those guys are I have always seen. I feel like I have known them my entire life now."
Dave Doeren on Jones: "I don’t think he was fully bought into strength and conditioning early in his career but in the last 12 months that is something that has allowed him to stay healthy and play better. He has come up with some key-moment interceptions. He is very consistent. He is in the right place and he makes a lot of checks."
Juston Burris on his fellow seniors: "We are very tight. We have been here five years. Just the camaraderie we have. We have been together for so long. We are a tight-knit group, especially me and Hakim. We are roommates and he has become one of my best friends here. Just being here in Carter-Finley to play my last game with him, Mike and the other seniors who have come along with us is going to be big."
Dave Doeren on Burris: "Juston Burris is, in my opinion, one of the most improved players not just on our team but in the league. I think he has had a tremendous season at corner and very deserving of all-conference if he gets that. I know being a Raleigh guy, growing up and going to high school here in the city of Raleigh, he has been around this rivalry his whole life. I know this one matters a lot to him."
Mike Rose on NC State’s future: "You always need some stepping stones. You always need building blocks to success. You have got a great quarterbacks coming with Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers. I think they will be set for a while."
Dave Doeren on Rose: "I think Mike Rose has an awesome mom but didn’t have a father figure really. I think he was pretty immature when he got here. I think he has really grown up a lot as a person, and I am proud of him for that. He has bought into the strength program when I got here. He was like-230 when I got here. Now he is 279 pounds at defensive end, and he is making plays. He has grown up and taken ownership. He is a college graduate."
Burris on NC State’s key to improving: "I think the biggest thing has been leadership. We actually have the leadership council and everybody has really stepped up--especially all of the seniors--and they have become more vocal leaders. That is what we needed. We need people to step up and bring people along."
Doeren on the trio: "These guys are a part of the foundation of our program. Our APR is up. Our graduation rate is up as a football program. We have been able from one year to the next show great improvement statistically in a lot of areas.
"They have been really good leaders. There is no question that Mike Stevens is learning from Juston Burris right now. Those things matter to our program and they are all great guys that are always going to be welcome here and that we are going to want to have around us when that time comes."