One day after Veterans Day, it was Military Appreciation Day in the Carrier Dome. It was a contest pitting two 4-5 squads, and ACC foes, against one another in a battle for .500.
NC State, after starting the season 4-1, suffered four consecutive losses. Aside from their loss at Louisville, the three other losses were decided by seven points or less.
Syracuse entered today’s contest after a demoralizing loss at the hands of Clemson last Saturday, 54-0. To make matters worse, questions swirled behind center, where Eric Dungey would be ruled out due to concussion protocol.
“Before the Clemson game, I think he was rated one of the ten best quarterbacks in the country,” said Syracuse head coach Dino Babers of Dungey.
Things started well for the Orange, however. After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the defense was able to stop the Wolfpack with a turnover on downs at the Syracuse 39 yard line. Zack Mahoney got the nod at quarterback, and found chemistry with Erv Philips. They connected three times on the opening drive for 26 yards.
They decided to go for it on a 4th and 2, which proved to be the right call. As a result, Mahoney guided the Orange to the first points of the game, capped off with a Dontae Strickland 10-yard touchdown run. The score gave Syracuse a 7-0 edge over NC State with 7:05 left in the first quarter.
Syracuse kept the Wolfpack off the scoreboard for the remainder of the first quarter. However, NC State did start the 2nd quarter with a 3rd and 1 on the Syracuse 7 yard line. Much of their yardage on the drive was on the back of Matthew Dayes. The senior from Fort Lauderdale took the ball in for the touchdown on the first play of the 2nd quarter. By this point, Dayes carried the ball ten times for 44 yards. It wouldn’t be the last we heard from him on the day.
The Orange would answer back. On a drive that started on their own 25 yard line, Mahoney would find Alvin Cornelius for 46 yards to the NC State 27 yard line. Syracuse settled for a Cole Murphy 48 yard field goal, and a 10-7 lead.
With 12:06 left in the half, Ryan Finley took the ball for the Wolfpack. On 3rd and 10, Finley found Nyheim Hines for 56 yards, down to the Orange 17 yard line. A few plays later, Jaylen Samuels found the end zone on a three yard rush. With 8:40 left in the first half, NC State had its first lead of the ball game, 14-10. The Wolfpack took the ball 76 yards in seven plays, and only needed 3:26 to do it.
NC State would not look back the rest of the way. On their next possession, they went with Sophomore quarterback Jalan McClendon, and we saw why. The Charlotte native had runs of 3,17,10, and 1, the last one getting a 1st and 10 on the Orange 10 yard line. After Matthew Dayes got the ball to the 3 yard line, the Orange would use their timeouts. They proved beneficial, as they helped the defense stop the Wolfpack on 2nd and 2, and on a 3rd and 3, getting a huge interception. Rodney Williams actually had a very big first half showing, making seven tackles and getting that key interception near the end of the half.
At the half, we could see the disparity in stats. Syracuse was fortunate to be down by only four points, as the Wolfpack outrushed them 103-12, and threw for 158 yards, 70 more than the Orange could muster. Syracuse’s star receiver, Amba Etta-Tawo, had only one reception for 4 yards. It was essentially a two man show for the Orange receiving corps at that point. Cornelius had 3 receptions for 60 yards, and Erv Philips had 4 receptions for 30. Conversely, NC State had four players with at least two receptions, Harmon gaining 22 yards, Cherry with 39, and Nyheim Hines with 62 yards on two receptions.
Syracuse only held onto the ball for 1:07 to start the second half. When NC State got the ball back, they only had the ball for :37. The only difference is, they took the ball 80 yards on only 2 plays to take a 21-10 lead. Kelvin Harmon had added to his tally with a 68 yard reception from Ryan Finley.
The Orange weren’t going away, though. In fact, they did the Wolfpack one better. In two plays, the Orange went 82 yards, with 81 of them coming on a pass from Mahoney to star wideout Amba Etta-Tawo. With 12:39 left in the 3rd quarter, it was NC State 21, Syracuse 17.
Syracuse, riding high on the big play, would force the Wolfpack to punt on their next possession. On 4th and 6, Sean Riley broke through the line to block the kick, giving the Orange the ball on the NC State 17 yard line. The Dome was rocking at this point.
Mahoney unfortunately quieted the crowd down, first with a rushing loss of 3, then an incompletion, and a pass for negative yardage to Etta-Tawo. They would settle for another field goal from Cole Murphy, bringing them within one point of the Wolfpack, 21-20.
Finley and NC State would answer over the next 7:34, slicing through the Orange defense in chunks, off passes to Hines, Cherry and Harmon. They would mix in some rushes from Dayes for good measure, including a 20 yard scamper down the right sideline for the score. At this point, Dayes had rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns. The 14 play, 86 yard drive put NC State up 28-20. That would be the score at the end of three quarters of play.
Syracuse stumbled with another three and out with their next possession to start the fourth quarter. After some inefficiency on the next few drives of the game for both teams, Syracuse had a chance to tie the game on a long ball from Mahoney to Cornelius down the right side. The touchdown was called back due to an illegal blocking penalty. You could feel that this was the key turning point in the game.
NC State would eventually put the game away with big passes to Samuels and Cherry, and a third touchdown run for Matthew Dayes from 13 yards out. They advanced to 5-5, 2-4 in the ACC, on the year with the 35-20 victory in the Dome. Syracuse fell to 4-6, and 2-4 in the ACC.
“That was a football game,” said Babers. “We were playing well into the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win the football game.”
The Wolfpack get Miami at home next week. Syracuse has the Seminoles coming to the Carrier Dome next Saturday. When Coach Babers was asked whether Dungey will be available next week, he didn’t seem optimistic.
“It’s probably doubtful,” said Babers.