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

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

No. 4 Cincinnati stays unbeaten, beats East Carolina 35-13

Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
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GREENVILLE, N.C. – Desmond Ridder threw two touchdown passes and No. 4 Cincinnati, aiming to maintain its position among the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings, completed a perfect regular season by beating East Carolina 35-13 on Friday.

The Bearcats (12-0, 8-0 American Athletic Conference, CFP No. 4) are trying to become the first team outside of a Power Five conference to compete in the four-team CFP. They’ll face Houston at home next week in the AAC title game.

“Put yourselves in position to play for championships, a lot of other things can happen,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said.

Defense and special teams helped put the game away for Cincinnati. Arquon Bush blocked a field goal and Ahmad Gardner returned the ball 60 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to make it 28-6.

“We always get the job done,” Bush said.

Less than four minutes later, Darrian Beavers intercepted a pass at the 7:27 mark, but the ensuing possession resulted in Cincinnati’s second turnover inside the East Carolina 5.

East Carolina (7-5, 5-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped.

“You see why they’re in contention for a national championship,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said. “I thought our kids played really, really hard. I thought they did many things well. . For our young players, it’s a great learning experience.”

Ridder finished 17-for-28 for 301 yards with two interceptions. Alec Pierce caught eight passes for 136 yards. Jerome Ford rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown.

In a matter of four Cincinnati snaps early in the second quarter, the Bearcats went from down 3-0 to up 14-3.

Ridder connected with Leonard Taylor on a 44-yard touchdown play. Cincinnati got the ball back and went 58-yards in three plays, with Ridder’s 53-yard throw to Pierce setting up Ford for a 2-yard scoring run.

Then Cincinnati drove 88 yards on seven plays with Pierce snagging a 28-yard touchdown catch.

The Bearcats failed to convert on the first scoring chance set up by special teams.

Ryan Royer partially blocked an East Carolina punt to give the Bearcats their first possession at the Pirates’ 31. That chance fizzled with back-to-back sacks and Alex Bales’ wide-right kick on a 45-yard field goal attempt.

After Owen Daffer’s 35-yard field goal for the Pirates, the Bearcats reached the East Carolina 29 on their next possession before Ridder’s incomplete pass on fourth-and-9.

After building a 21-3 lead, Cincinnati botched another chance on Ford’s fumble at the East Carolina 3 on its final drive of the first half.

East Carolina closed within 21-6 and then drove to the Cincinnati 5 early in the fourth quarter. But after a penalty, the Pirates were ready to settle for Daffer’s third field goal before Bush disrupted those plans in what seemed like a game-clinching sequence with 11:07 remaining.

The All-America cornerback Gardner grabbed the bouncing ball and was way out in front of the pack for a score.

East Carolina’s winning streak marked its longest string of success in AAC play in its eight seasons as a league member.

Cincinnati also went 12-0 in the 2009 regular season.

The Pirates, facing their highest-ranked team since a 27-10 home loss in 2006 to then-No. 4 West Virginia, were held to 282 yards of total offense.

Holton Ahlers was 19-for-38 for 228 yards, an interception and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jsi Hatfield.

THE TAKEAWAY

Cincinnati: The Bearcats wasted numerous scoring chances and that could have haunted them if not for a stellar defensive performance. They gave up only one touchdown and held East Carolina to 54 rushing yards – almost 120 below the Pirates’ season average.

East Carolina: The Pirates, who’ll finish in a third-place tie in the AAC with Central Florida and Saturday’s Tulsa-Southern Methodist winner, were aiming for a rare victory against a Top 25 team. With this result, the Pirates are 13-63-1 vs. Top 25 foes. East Carolina outscored its four AAC visitors in the first quarter by a combined 27-0 this year, but its 77 yards of total offense in the first half Saturday put it in a bind.

TAKE THAT, COACH

In the second quarter, Ridder passed Bearcats quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli (11,930 yards) as the all-time leader in program history in total yards. Ridder is also the AAC career leader in total yards.

Meanwhile, Ford eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. He’s at 1,056 yards.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Cincinnati wasn’t threatened much in this game, but the bar might be high for the Bearcats. It’s hard to see them climbing at after this result, though the performance should be enough to hold steady.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati: The Bearcats did not play Houston in the regular season.

East Carolina: Awaits a bowl invitation for its first postseason game since 2014.

Baylor becomes 3rd Big 12 team to postpone opener after La Tech outbreak

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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WACO, Texas — Baylor became the third Big 12 team forced to postpone its scheduled season opener this weekend after Louisiana Tech reported multiple positive COVID-19 tests Tuesday, less than two weeks after a hurricane affected its campus.

Louisiana Tech athletic director Tommy McClelland said Tuesday night that it wasn’t possible for the Bulldogs to play Saturday at Baylor because of the positive tests and contact tracing that would keep other players out the game.

The school didn’t provide any specific numbers, but said there was a spike in cases in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 that impacted the campus in Ruston, Louisiana, which is more than 200 miles inland. McClelland the school had only one positive case in the three weeks before the current outbreak, an indication that protocols in place were working.

“With 95% of our city losing power for days – even up to a week in many areas – our student-athletes were forced to find places to stay and some even had family from south Louisiana that came northward to stay with them,” McClelland said. “So many things that we were able to control for the month of August became out of our control, and I think the numbers prove that it took its toll.”

No makeup date was announced.

The Louisiana Tech-Baylor game is the 10th Division I game that has been postponed because of the novel coronavirus, including Big 12 games SMU at TCU and Tulsa at Oklahoma State. The other postponed games are: North Carolina State at Virginia Tech, Temple at Navy, ULM at Troy, Marshall at East Carolina, and three Rice games – against Houston, Marshall and UAB.

TCU had to put off its scheduled opener Friday night after a virus outbreak last week among a cluster of Horned Frogs players and support staff. Oklahoma State has pushed back its opener against Tulsa a week to Sept. 19 after the Golden Hurricane were limited during preseason camp because of multiple positive tests.

Seven Big 12 teams are still scheduled to play Saturday.

“We are incredibly disappointed to announce the postponement of our upcoming football game against Louisiana Tech,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said. “However, in the interest of the health and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff, we are confident in this unfortunate but necessary course of action. To the Baylor and Louisiana Tech student-athletes and communities, we share in your disappointment and look ahead to resuming play.”

The game was supposed to be the debut of new Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, the defensive coordinator last season for 15-0 national champion LSU. He replaced Matt Rhule, who was hired by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers after three seasons with the Bears.