Central Florida running back Kevin Smith took the first play from scrimmage 80 yards for a touchdown and the Golden Knights never looked back, building a 22-point halftime lead and surviving a furious comeback attempt to hold on to a 25-23 win over the Wolfpack on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium in Tom O'Brien's first game as head coach.
The Wolfpack rallied behind sophomore Harrison Beck, who replaced starting quarterback Daniel Evans late in the third quarter and stayed in the remainder of the game. Beck helped the Pack offense score 20 unanswered points in the second half, while the defense kept the Golden Knights from adding to the deficit.
The Pack had three chances to complete the comeback, but couldn't convert either opportunity. The first came on a failed two-point conversion attempt with the score 25-23, as a pass attempt to Marcus Stone sailed over the outstretched arms of the tight end. The next came with just over four minutes remaining, as the Pack elected to go for it on 4th-and-6 from inside its own territory. Beck hit receiver John Dunlap in the flat, but the senior was taken down four yards short of the marker. State would get the ball once more time with 52.5 seconds left, but missed on a Hail Mary attempt in the final seconds.
The Wolfpack gave the Knights another three points a few minutes after the opening score, as a tipped pass from Evans wound up in the hands of Florida's Lawrence Young deep in Pack territory. A few plays later, Michael Torres put a 40-yard field goal attempt through the uprights to put the Golden Knights up 10-0. The Pack gave away another two points two possessions later, as Central Florida defensive end Bruce Miller took down Evans in the end zone for a safety. The Knights took their ensuing possession deep into Wolfpack territory but settled for a 36-yard field goal to go up 15-0 over the Pack.
The Knights made their first mistake of the game in the second quarter, when true freshman punter Blake Clingan bobbled the snap and was taken down at the Central Florida 16-yard line. Despite the gift, the Pack managed only a 29-yard field goal, stalling out at the 9-yard line but putting its first points of the game on the board.
Central Florida would score twice more before the half, getting a touchdown and a field goal before going to the locker room. The touchdown came on another run by Smith, who took it in from the 8-yard line. Smith finished the half with 19 rushes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. The Knights added a field goal in the final seconds of the half to make it a 25-3 halftime score.
The Pack came out of the half re-energized, scoring a quick touchdown thanks to the returning magic of Darrell Blackman. The lightning quick receiver picked up a bouncing punt and raced up the left sideline for a 57-yard return that put the Pack on the Florida 33-yard line. Andre Brown took over from there, rumbling all the way to the end zone on the next play to pull the Pack within 15 points of the Golden Knights.
State pulled within eight points at the start of the fourth quarter, thanks to a gutsy 4th-and-one call early in the possession. Sitting in their own territory, the Pack called play-action as Beck hit Stone with a 29-yard pass to put the Wolfpack into Central Florida territory. The Pack punched it in from there, capping the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to fullback Patrick Bedics.
Beck and the Wolfpack scored another touchdown mid-way through the fourth quarter, as the sophomore marched his team down the field. On third-and-12 inside the 15-yard line, Beck hit receiver Donald Bowens on the right sideline. Bowens looked bottled up at first, but managed to skirt a tackle and flip his way into the endzone to pull the Wolfpack within two points. The Pack went for the conversion, but Beck overthrew Stone in the endzone to put the score at 25-23 in favor of the Golden Knights.