Trailing by just three points at halftime, NC State gave up 17 unanswered points in the third quarter and could never regain the momentum it built in the first half.
"There was a point midway through the third quarter where we just lost our poise," said Amato. "Why we lost our poise, I'm not sure. But we got waxed. There's no doubt about it."
In just his third collegiate game, true freshman Damion Fletcher ran over, around and through NC State's defense, racking up 177 yards and three touchdowns. The Golden Eagles dominated the ground game, amassing 261 yards on 52 carries, compared to the Wolfpack's 77 yards on 22 carries.
Although NC State trailed the entire game, it did manage to stay within striking distance until the second half. After Southern Miss jumped out to an early 10-0 lead on Fletcher's first touchdown run, the Wolfpack answered with a beautiful 46yard touchdown pass from Marcus Stone to Donald Bowens. NC State and Southern Miss traded a pair of field goals in the second quarter, with John Deraney booting a 54-yarder to cap an 11 play, 39-yard drive.
NC State hit the locker room down just 13-10 and riding a surge of momentum. But Southern Miss got the ball first in the second half and drove 80 yards on seven plays to go up 30-10 on a 1-yard run by quarterback Jeremy Young. The junior finished with 181 yards passing, going 13-for-19 with no interceptions.
Stone, who was 10 for 24 passing with 100 yards, had a rough evening with the pesky Golden Eagle secondary, which picked off two of his passes. The second interception was the costliest, coming when the Wolfpack could've cut the score to less than a touchdown. Trailing 23-10 in the third quarter, NC State drove all the way to the Southern Miss 6-yard line before Stone's pass in the end zone was smothered by a Golden Eagle defender.
"We made too many mistakes, and every time we did, they would come back and hit us right where it hurt," Patrick Lowery said. "They ran the ball right at us and challenged our manhood."
Southern Miss went 77 yards in four plays to open the second half and added another touchdown and a field goal in the third quarter.
John Dunlap scored the Wolfpack's only touchdown in the second half on a 21-yard reception from backup quarterback Daniel Evans. After relieving Stone in the fourth quarter, Evans went 8-for-11 with one interception.
NC State had 197 yards passing and 274 yards of total offense to Southern Miss 442 yards of total offense.
Running back Andre Brown led NC State in rushing with 48 yards on 13 carries. Toney Baker added 19 yards on four carries, and Dunlap added one carry for 17 yards. Bowens was the top receiver with 76 yards on four catches. Dunlap and Anthony Hill also had four catches each with 33 and 21 yards respectively.
While the score was drastically different from last week's thriller against the Zips, the outcome was equally hurtful, Amato said.
"There isn't much of a difference. Every loss hurts just the same," he said. Echoing the sentiments of the team, Amato was adamant that the season was far from a wash.
"The season is not over. There are still a lot of games to play. Next week we start play in the ACC, and I'm a believer and these kids are believers. I'm a dreamer and they're dreamers, too."
The Wolfpack opens conference play on Sept. 23 when it hosts nationally ranked Boston College.