NC State got nothing done in the first quarter, perhaps not a surprising turn of events after such a tough loss the week prior. But NC State was not about to let Wake Forest beat them twice, and removed any doubt about the outcome with four second-quarter touchdowns.
Ricky Person got State on the board with a 15-yard touchdown run that was set up with a beautiful sideline pass from Devin Leary to Thayer Thomas. On Syracuse’s ensuing drive, Garrett Shrader threw a horrible pass over the middle that was intercepted by Drake Thomas and returned for a touchdown.
Syracuse answered with a TD of its own, but then Bam Knight went and returned the kickoff for a score to re-establish a two-TD lead for the Wolfpack. Leary capped the quarter with a touchdown throw to Chris Toudle, giving the Pack a 28-7 halftime edge.
Syracuse’s only real path to victory was to turn this game into an ugly, low-scoring affair; the second quarter erased any such possibility, and with the Orange chasing points the rest of the way, they really had no shot.
NC State pushed its advantage to 38-10 in the third quarter, putting the game to bed. Those free points from the defense and special teams were a gift that this team was not going to squander.
The Pack’s defense was generally very good and limited the Orange to under 4.5 yards per play. The Orange ran for 170 yards but more than half came on two big plays. Syracuse managed just 66 yards through the air on 3.1 per attempt. Garrett Shrader’s shortcomings as a passer meant the Orange were pretty much done after that second quarter went sideways for them.
Leary finished 17-24 for 303 yards, two scores, and no interceptions. His average of 12.6 yards per attempt was a season-high, and just the second time this season he averaged more than 10 yards per attempt. Big plays in the passing game started to make the difference after that first quarter.
With the win, NC State improved to 8-3 (5-2), and it comes down to this: if State beats UNC and Wake loses to Boston College, then the Pack is going to the ACC title game. Neither leg of that journey will be easy.