Welcome to a trip down Misery Lane.
With the athletic season over, what better way to spend our time than wallowing through 15 years of shared sadness together? What’s that? There are infinity better ways to spend our time? Don’t lie to yourself.
I’ve covered, in some capacity, NC State sports for someone from 2001 until now. In that time, I’ve seen some pretty remarkable successes, eight NCAA tournament appearances and on the baseball side a College World Series run, and some devastating losses. But today we’re focusing on the worst of times, the truly heartbreaking and brutal losses. I picked two for each sport, trying to equally weight the way the loss happened with the stakes of the game to come up with the truly worst of the worst.
2003 vs Duke, ACC Championship Game
The Stakes: An actual title in basketball for the first time in almost 20 years
Why it Hurt: NC State had a 55-40 lead with 11:44 when both Josh Powell and Julius Hodge picked up their fourth fouls within a minute of each other. From that point it became the J.J. Redick show – he scored 23 points in the final 10 minutes of the game and at times seemed to be shooting the ball from half court. The Pack scored two baskets in the final four minutes (SEEEEENNNNDEEEEEEEKKKKK!!!!!!) and Duke took the lead for good with 2:51 left.
2004 vs Vanderbilt, NCAA Tournament 2nd Round
The Stakes: The Pack’s first trip to the Sweet 16 in a very long time and though we wouldn’t know it then, the best team State would put on the court in a 30 year span having a chance to make a deep NCAA tournament run.
Why it Hurt: This might sound like something of a repeat, but NC State had an 11-point lead with 3:45 to play. Matt Freije, a name that will forever live as a four-letter word to Pack fans, then hit six consecutive free throws after getting two fouls called on 3-point shots ("I was lucky to get those two calls," he said afterwards. F*** you, Freije). Marcus Melvin was then called for an extremely dubious intentional foul, and Vandy hit both free throws and a 3-pointer on the play for a fun five-point possession. Vandy took a two-point lead with 21 seconds left and the Pack’s final possession ended with a bad look by Engin Atsur that didn’t hit the rim (SEEEEENNNNDEEEEKKKKK!!!!!).
2002 vs Georgia Tech
The Stakes: Staying undefeated, staying in the top 10 nationally (they were No. 9 at the time), staying in the BCS talk, continuing the greatest start in NCSU football history.
Why it Hurt: The game opened with this montage, which remains the greatest thing that’s ever been put together about NC State football.
NC State was, as the video alludes to, 9-0 and riding as high as it’s ever ridden in the last 30 years. Rivers, McLendon and Amato were Gods – two of them have since fallen pretty far off that pedestal – and the Pack was heavily favored at home against the Yellow Jackets. Let’s just pull straight from the AP story on this one:
"The Yellow Jackets also had some good fortune. On the drive, a delay-of-game penalty against the offense nullified an N.C. State sack on third down. Suggs found Smith on the next play for a 28-yard gain and a first down. Later on the drive, Greg Golden dropped a sure interception in the end zone after the receiver had fallen down. Suggs found Foschi for the score four plays later."
So yeah, no more explanation needed on this one.
2010 at Maryland
The Stakes: An Atlantic Division title and a first ever trip to the ACC Championship game
Why it Hurt: Despite a final margin of just a touchdown, this game was essentially a blowout, which makes it somewhat unique on the list. The Pack, with a tangible goal in sight and only a good (but hardly great) Maryland team in its way, laid an absolute egg defensively. Torrey Smith ran over the secondary like it was a video game, catching 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns.
It’s actually a tough call to determine which was more painful – this game or the Clemson loss earlier in the season where Tom O’Brien refused to go for it on 4th down late and the infamous 4-yard punt happened. I went with this one only because they knew the stakes going in, but I will not argue against the Clemson game (on a personal note the Clemson game was always worse for me because I drove there and back from Raleigh that day).
2006 vs Clemson, ACC Championship Game
The Stakes: An ACC title, the first for the Pack since the early 90s. State has played in one championship game since – a loss to Florida State.
Why it Hurt: Clemson was coming off a game that went till 1:30 am the previous night and had to play a 1:00 pm game the next day for the title. Clemson was forced to throw Sean Clark, who no one had ever heard of until that day. The Pack had Eric Surkamp, who went on to start a few games for the San Francisco Giants, on the mound. On paper, everything was on NC State’s side but the actual game didn’t work out that way.
The true pain would come in the 4th inning, when two errors on two consecutive plays by freshman third baseman Matt Mangini kept Surkamp from escaping a jam and led to a four-run inning. The errors also led to Surkamp getting pulled the next inning, a depleted Pack bullpen giving up four more runs in the 7th and the Pack losing by – you guessed it – four runs.
2013 vs UCLA, College World Series
The Stakes: Staying in the winner’s bracket of the College World Series, moving to just one win away from the finals (UCLA stayed in the winner’s bracket, went on to the finals against MSU and won the national championship).
Why it Hurt: UCLA played the most anemic brand of college baseball, leaning on their pitching and a cavernous park in Omaha to keep runs off the board. They scored just two runs – one on a wild pitch – but the Pack just couldn't scratch anything across. The toughest blow came in the 8th for the Pack, when a lead-off single and a hit batter put two on with one out for Trea Turner. The sophomore shortstop murdered a pitch to left. In almost any ballpark in college baseball the ball is five rows deep and the Pack is up 4-2. But Omaha is a cursed, evil place that swallows fly balls and instead the shot by Turner became the loudest, most devastating F7 in the history of NC State.
Also considered: A lot of Sendek era NCAA tournament games, 2003 vs Ohio State, that Akron atrocity for sheer embarrassment sake, that rain-out in Florida that killed Rodon’s only start of the weekend and many, many more.