On my way to picking the same loss in this game as everyone else, I said I felt like I was being disrespectful to NC State’s defense—and yep, I probably should have listened to my gut a bit more.
The Wolfpack defense picked off Sam Hartman three times, setting up scoring opportunities for the offense in the process, and generally kept Wake Forest off balance for most of the night.
It took some time for the offense to get going, but after MJ Morris connected on a deep ball to Keyon Lesane in the second quarter, those guys started to settle in. Morris wasn’t perfect by any means, and he was definitely amped early on, but he wasn’t the quarterback in this game making the big mistakes, and that was the difference.
Morris led two touchdown drives in the second quarter, the latter of which gave State the lead for good just ahead of halftime. And in the third quarter, he put together a lengthy touchdown drive to extend the lead to 10 that took more than seven minutes.
Game pressure is always important. And Wake’s anemic run game was rendered useless by the Pack defense, so all the plays had to come from Hartman and that passing game. Once they were down two scores, that just became more obvious—and Hartman wilted. He threw interceptions on each of Wake’s next two possessions to help State take a 27-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
Of course, Wake was not about to go quietly. Too good of a team for that. The Deacs converted multiple fourth down plays on their touchdown drive to close the gap in the fourth quarter, which easily could have been a decisive point in this one if State couldn’t respond—but respond it did.
Morris and the ground game put together a clutch drive to move the ball into the red zone, and while they couldn’t finish it off with a touchdown, that was a critical possession to settle everyone back down and, oh yeah, push the lead back to two scores. It was enough to get the Pack home.
Great effort tonight against a very good team, and a huge win for this group’s confidence in the post-Leary era. We love to see it.