No. 13 NC State hangs on to win at ECU after missed kicks

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

GREENVILLE, N.C. – North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren watched from the sideline as the late field goal that could have topped his 13th-ranked team sailed wide of the uprights, then offered a fist pump that was far more restrained than jubilant.

The Wolfpack had survived – and that was about as positive as anyone clad in red could be about Saturday’s 21-20 win at East Carolina that featured the Pirates missing two critical late kicks.

“I think they’re probably more mad than I’m going to be at them right now,” Doeren said of his players.

N.C. State went from up 14 in the third quarter to barely hanging on thanks to a pair of plays that weren’t even in its control. The Pirates were in position to hand the Wolfpack a surprising loss when they got the ball back late down one, not to mention offer Owen Daffer a shot at redemption after he pulled a tying extra point wide left after Rahjai Harris‘ short touchdown run with 2:58 left.

Holton Ahlers‘ keeper set up a 41-yard field goal in the final seconds for Daffer in the season opener for each school. But he missed this one wide right with 5 seconds left, prompting many of the fans in the once-rowdy crowd to put their hands on their heads in disbelief.

Shyheim Battle emphatically waved that the kick was no good as Doeren offered that fist pump for the Wolfpack, yet the moment quickly looked more like relief after another bumpy trip to Greenville.

This time, at least, it all came in a win.

“It obviously wasn’t pretty,” Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary said. “It wasn’t the way we expected it to be. It wasn’t what we’re capable of doing.”

Leary, the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown, but he had a costly interception with about 5 minutes left that set up East Carolina’s late touchdown drive. The Wolfpack also came up empty on six goal-line plays in the fourth quarter, first with a goal-line fumble by Jordan Houston and then with talented youngster Demie Sumo-Karngbaye getting stuffed four straight times to end another drive.

In fact, the difference – Daffer’s misses aside – came on a blocked punt by Jasiah Provillon deep in ECU’s end that Sean Brown recovered in the end zone late in the first quarter.

Ahlers threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns to lead East Carolina, which held the Wolfpack to 25 fourth-quarter yards.

“I know nobody outside of Greenville gave us much of a chance but those kids never doubted,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “We should’ve won the ballgame.”

THE TAKEAWAY

N.C. State: Everything has been set up for the Wolfpack to make a big leap in Doeren’s 10th season, from Leary’s presence to the program matching its highest-ever preseason ranking in The Associated Press poll. N.C. State led 21-7 by halftime, only to see this one nearly end as another loss in a stadium where the Wolfpack had lost four of five meetings.

ECU: Houston’s first three years had been a heavy rebuild of the ECU program, which has long had a reputation for thriving in matchups against power-conference schools at home backed by rowdy crowd. The Pirates kept hanging around before making a late move toward a big upset. That could provide confidence going forward for the American Athletic Conference program – or it could be a damaging blow considering how this one ended.

DEMIE’S PLAY

Sumo-Karngbaye ran for 79 yards and a score to lead the Wolfpack’s ground game, offering a physical and thud-delivering presence.

That included a 22-yard run to the 1 early in the fourth that had him keeping his legs churning, either bouncing off or running through roughly a half-dozen purple jerseys in a performance Doeren said was a highlight for the Wolfpack.

THE FINAL KICK

The Pirates were out of timeouts on Ahlers’ keeper, so they had to run Daffer and the field-goal team on from the sideline with the clock winding down. But the Wolfpack had injury issues and had to call a timeout with 9 seconds left, giving Daffer more time to line up the kick.

“He had just missed an extra point, so I thought he’s probably in his head a little bit,” Doeren said of his thoughts from the sideline.

Daffer had earned a scholarship after kicking a 54-yard field goal as time expired to beat Navy last year.

“He feels worse than anybody right now,” Houston said. “We’ve got to support him. And he’s got to rebound from this. But it’s a tough, tough pill to swallow.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

N.C. State didn’t look sharp in this one, and that could cost the Wolfpack with voters for the next AP Top 25.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: Charleston Southern of the Championship Subdivision visits the Wolfpack next Saturday.

ECU: The Pirates host Old Dominion – which beat Virginia Tech in its Friday opener – next Saturday.

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”