NC State used a pair of home run balls from Nyheim Hines to win its second straight game over rival UNC, and eighth win in the last 11 in the series overall, on senior day Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium. Hines scored on runs of 54 and 48 yards to propel the Pack to a 33-21 win and their first six-win season in ACC play in 23 years.
The Wolfpack (8-4, 6-2) await their bowl destination after conference championships shake out next week, and the regular season-ending win likely ensures it will be a relatively meaningful contest that could position the Pack for a spot in the postseason AP poll for the first time since the team finished 25th in 2010.
Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the season finale.
· Hines (22 carries, 196 yards) headlined a rushing attack that gained 292 yards and averaged 6.5 yards a carry. You’re usually going to win when you average more per rush than your opponent averages per pass attempt—UNC managed just 6.2 yards per pass.
· Hines’ performance put him over 1,000 yards on the season (1,040), giving the Pack back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers after Matt Dayes went over 1,100 yards a year ago.
· Ryan Finley ran for a pair of scores and senior Jaylen Samuels iced the game by capping his Carter-Finley career with a 10-yard TD jaunt late in the fourth quarter. The five rushing TDs were the most allowed by UNC this season, and the 6.5 yards per carry was the Tar Heel D’s second worst per play performance.
· Samuels, who gained 53 yards on just seven carries, finishes the regular season with a team-high 11 rushing scores and 15 TDs overall. He has 835 yards combined rushing and receiving and set a school record with a reception in 40 straight games. Sprinkle in his KOR yardage and JaySam has 1,109 all-purpose yards.
· It was evident from the first drive, when the Band of Brothers blew Carolina off the ball on Finley’s three-yard QB sneak score, that State was going to win the battle in the trenches.
· It wasn’t all running it down their throats, as Jakobi Meyers enjoyed a 100-yard receiving game, catching seven balls for 101 yards.
· Perhaps trying to avoid wear and tear on Hines, who has struggled to stay on the field at times due to injury, Gavin Locklear returned punts. The redshirt senior made the most of his opportunity with a 30-yard return that gave State a short field for its first score.
· It was mostly an ugly display of trading punts, but State ultimately won the third quarter 7-0 and seems to have put its baffling post-intermission meltdown problem in the past. The Pack have been strong in the fourth quarter, outscoring opponents 91-54 in the game’s final frame so far this season. That’s just 4.5 points per fourth quarter for opponents, and that’s a testament to Thunder Dan’s S&C program.
· Defensively, State forced two three-and-outs to start the game, allowed conversions on just four of 14 third downs overall, limited the Heels to less than 100 yards rushing (83), and bothered Nathan Elliott into a paltry 46.7% completion rate.
· Senior B.J. Hill had a standout performance, recording eight tackles; Hill had 1.5 TFLs that included his fourth sack. Hill’s four sacks are actually (a distant) second only to fellow senior Bradley Chubb (who has 10). Chubb recorded six tackles on the day, including one for a loss.
· Germaine Pratt, poised to become the leader of the defense next year, was one of two linebackers to pick Elliott. Senior Airius Moore also snagged an INT after an excellent breakup by Nick McCloud. Pratt, even though not technically a starter, came off the sidelines to record a team-high 10 tackles, including one of State’s five TFLs.
· Darian Roseboro, who has understandably been a bit quiet since the unexpected passing of his father earlier in the year, recorded a sack and should combine with Pratt and safety Jarius Morehead (second on the team with 75 tackles) to form the nucleus of a pretty good defense next year.
· Dave Doeren summed up my feelings about pass interference in the postgame when he said, “I don’t know what PI is anymore.” And added, “I think the whole thing is a joke right now.” What wasn’t funny was the PI on Johnathan Alston that, if anything, should have been on the offense when Alston was in better position to make a play on the ball and initiated absolutely no contact on the play. That, the second straight PI to gift UNC a first down, set up UNC’s first TD and changed the course of the game.
· Speaking of game-changing PIs, the one in the end zone on the up-for-grabs halfback pass that fooled no one, and was thrown into triple coverage, and was inter-freaking-cepted, was equally as head-scratching. The Heels went on to score to pull within 27-21. Without the benefit of the PI calls, I’m not sure UNC even manages to break double figures in the game.
· In fairness—and Doeren acknowledged as much—UNC was also the victim of a couple of questionable PI flags as well. It was an overly-officious affair, with the Heels flagged 12 times for 127 yards and the Pack penalized 11 times for 108 yards. The game is not about you, Mr. Zebra.
· The wildcat came back (and predictably resulted in a loss of one yard).
· The Band of Brothers suffered multiple injuries, with stalwart senior Tony Adams going down and his replacement, Joe Sculthorpe, also getting banged up. Hopefully both are 100% for State’s bowl game.
· One would’ve expected Kelvin Harmon (or Kevin/Calvin according to the ESPNU crew) to be the skill guy going over 1,000 yards in the game, but he was held to just one catch for 21 yards and needs seven more to reach the milestone.
· After it was a strength early in the season—if I recall correctly I think the Pack scored a TD in the two-minute offense in each of the first five games—clock management continues to be a concern of late. State did not show enough urgency in its last drive before the half, which ended in one of the worst WTF interceptions in recent memory.
· We could really just rename this bullet “the kicking game mishaps.” Kyle Bambard doinked his first PAT off the upright, putting the Pack in point-chasing mode for the rest of the game (thus being down 14-12 at half despite both teams scoring two TDs).
· An offensive PI (yet again of the not so sure about that one variety) pushed the Pack back and resulted in a long FG attempt from Bambard that ended predictably wide of the uprights.
· Rather than even attempt a 42-yarder, State went for it on fourth down and Finley, ironically, threw the pass off the crossbar. Granted, you have to actually put the ball somewhere on the field there, Ryan, but you’re not in that situation in the first place with a competent kicking game. The kicking woes continue to directly and indirectly leave a lot of points off the board; thankfully it didn’t matter in the end this time, unless you picked the Pack to cover.
In an obvious homage to this weekly feature, Doeren mentioned having gone through the good, bad, and ugly with this year’s senior class. He added one more category: the terrific. It’s always terrific to beat Carolina. And, even if this year’s group was merely good after being oh so close to great, it truly is a terrific senior class both in terms of individual standouts like Chubb and JaySam, but also in terms of how far the program has advanced as they’ve developed. Hopefully it’s a foundation for a lot more terrific to come. Let’s name them, each and every one: Tony Adams, Davion Allred, Johnathan Alston, Shawn Boone, Bradley Chubb, Cole Cook, Peter Daniel, Jerod Fernandez, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, Ben Kaiser, Nicholas Lacy, Gavin Locklear, Airius Moore, Dakwa Nichols, JuMichael Ramos, Jaylen Samuels, Bryan Smith, Mike Stevens, Kentavius Street, and Carson Wise.
Thanks to all of the above for their contributions, big and small. And you’re not done. Let’s make more memories in the bowl and become the first nine-win Pack since 2010. If State can win nine, it would be the 11th time in the program’s 112-year history.