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NC State overcomes sloppy, inconsistent effort to hold on against James Madison, 24-13

Not a whole lot of this game was pleasant, but that is a credit to JMU.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Arizona State vs North Carolina State Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

James Madison didn’t make life easy on NC State, not by any stretch, even after falling down 10 points at halftime. It took a clutch, late fourth-quarter touchdown drive by the Wolfpack to seal a 24-13 win over the Dukes.

JMU struck first, turning an NC State fumble into seven points, but NC State rallied for 17 unanswered in the second quarter. Ryan Finley hit Thayer Thomas and C.J. Riley for touchdown scores in that period, and the latter was a big one, turns out.

The jump ball grab by Riley near the end of the second quarter secured a 10-point lead going into the break, and with the Pack receiving to begin the third quarter, it appeared that State was ready to assert full control of the game.

Instead, NC State came out completely listless, opening the door for James Madison’s rally. But the Dukes could not find the end zone in the second half—they put the pressure on when it counted, yes, but when you settle for too many field goals in the red zone, well, often you write your own eulogy. There’s a good argument to be made that JMU head coach Mike Houston let NC State off the hook with a couple of field goals inside the five.

State’s only score in the second half was its game-icing touchdown late in the fourth, on a Reggie Gallaspy carry. To get there, the Wolfpack relied heavily on Week 1 hero Jakobi Meyers, who committed clutch third down after clutch third down. He did not score this afternoon, but nobody was more important to State’s fortunes. He finished with 14 grabs and 161 yards.

Meyers allowed NC State’s offense to consistently move the sticks while its ground game sputtered and the Finley-Harmon connection could not find purchase, and Eli Drinkwitz forgot his balls. There’s no way to overstate how important Meyers was today.

The turning point of the contest came in the first half, when JMU was driving, down 10-7, and inside the NC State 10. Dukes quarterback Ben DiNucci scrambled and then fumbled, which was recovered by State. The Wolfpack turned that takeaway into a touchdown right at the end of the first half. It rode that change in fate to the win Saturday.

State didn’t make a lot of its own luck, but made enough.