Morris, No. 24 Wolfpack rally past Hokies for 22-21 win

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RALEIGH, N.C. – For the second straight home game, North Carolina State found itself down double figures after halftime. And just as before, the 24th-ranked Wolfpack responded with grit and resilience.

First-year quarterback MJ Morris threw for three second-half touchdowns to help N.C. State rally from 18 points down in the third quarter to beat Virginia Tech 22-21 on Thursday night.

“The kids just don’t quit here,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said.

Morris took over for starter Jack Chambers to lead an unexpected comeback for the Wolfpack (6-2, 2-2 Atalntic Coast Conference), who trailed 21-3 after Grant Wells‘ 20-yard TD keeper with 4:02 in the third quarter.

Instead, N.C. State somehow found a way to make its biggest comeback since rallying from 27 down to beat Maryland in 2011. It also marked the Wolfpack’s second comeback from a double-digit deficit after halftime this month, going back to a rally from 17-3 down at the break against Florida State on Oct. 8.

This one was arguably more critical for a team that had been reeling offensively since losing quarterback and preseason ACC player of the year Devin Leary to a season-ending injury in the Florida State victory. But after looking like every yard was a struggle, Morris and the Wolfpack started pushing the ball downfield and connecting to suddenly change momentum.

“There was a lot of things going in my head, but the one thing I tried to focus on was doing my job for the team,” Morris said.

It started with a 35-yard deep throw from Morris to Thayer Thomas with 1:42 left in the third. Morris followed with a 7-yard score to Trent Pennix early in the fourth, then hit Thomas again on a short throw that the receiver cut up the middle of the field and scored from 18 yards out with 7:38 mark.

After its veteran defense forced a three-and-out, the Wolfpack kept the chains moving on a final drive that ate up the last 5:35 to seal the win.

Thomas finished with 10 catches for 118 yards and the two scores for the Wolfpack.

Wells ran for two scores and hit Kaleb Smith for an 85-yard score in the third for the Hokies (2-6, 1-4).

“To me, you’ve got to have a closer’s mentality in the fourth quarter,” first-year coach Brent Pry said. “You’ve got to play your absolute best. we just needed a play or two to change the outcome. And we’ll get there.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Virginia Tech: This one will be difficult to get past for the Hokies, who looked on their way to ending the Wolfpack’s 14-game home winning streak and giving Pry his first road win in four tries. Instead, the offense that suddenly found success attacking the Wolfpack’s veteran defense sputtered when it needed a big drive and the defense gave up three straight TD drives.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack went through a bye week with a chance to tweak the offense to better suit the strengths of Chambers in the wake of Leary’s loss. But Morris also got plenty of reps and soon proved the more effective passer as the Wolfpack needed to get more aggressive down big – and it worked.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

N.C. State, which peaked at No. 10 this year, could fall out of the AP Top 25 with Sunday’s next poll after struggling to beat a two-win team. Then again, another impressive show of resilience could stand out for voters.

HOME STREAK

N.C. State has now won 15 straight home games since losing to Miami in 2020. That put the Wolfpack within one of tying the program record set from 1972-75 under Lou Holtz.

PENALTY PROBLEMS

The Hokies had 13 penalties for 69 yards. That included being flagged 10 times for false starts, with five coming in the first quarter alone.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: The Hokies return home to face Georgia Tech on Nov. 5.

N.C. State: It’s a rematch of last year’s instate Atlantic Division thriller when No. 10 Wake Forest visits Raleigh on Nov. 5.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.