Finley leads N.C. State past No. 18 UNC in 2OT in 1st start

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Devin Carter and two teammates took a North Carolina State flag and planted it at rival North Carolina’s midfield logo amid a wild celebration.

The Wolfpack spiked weeks of frustration with a signature road win to end the regular season.

“It was just spur of the moment,” Carter said. “It was amazing to go out there like that. It’s joy.”

Ben Finley threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start, and N.C. State beat Drake Maye and No. 18 North Carolina 30-27 on Friday when Noah Burnette duck-hooked a 35-yard field goal try in the second overtime.

Maye connected with Antoine Green from 4 yards out on the final play of regulation to tie the game at 24-all, but N.C. State (8-4, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept the ACC Coastal Division champion Tar Heels (9-3, 6-2) out of the end zone in the first overtime.

Burnette – who also missed from 27 yards in the fourth quarter – made a 26-yarder in the first OT and the Wolfpack tied it on Christopher Dunn‘s 31-yarder. Dunn was good from 21 yards in the second overtime and N.C. State, which never trailed in regulation, handed North Carolina its second straight loss.

“I was running around trying to hug everyone,” Finley said.

Finley’s older brother, former N.C. State QB Ryan Finley, orchestrated two wins in North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium.

“It’s nice to keep the Finleys undefeated here,” coach Dave Doeren said.

Carter had six receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown for the Wolfpack, who snapped a two-game skid and pulled out a thrilling victory over their in-state rival for the second straight year.

“I loved the way our kids played. They fought their guts out,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “They didn’t play great in the first half, but they were really good on defense, maybe the best defense we’ve had this year.”

Carter caught Finley’s back-shoulder pass just outside the end zone and backed in for a 26-yard touchdown with 3:54 remaining in regulation for the Wolfpack’s first points of the second half. Finley was so far down the depth chart that he estimated he hadn’t thrown a pass to Carter in a year and a half.

As a fourth stringer, Finley didn’t imagine ending up in this situation.

“Just kind of messing around on the scout team and still getting better,” he said.

Finley became N.C. State’s fourth starting quarterback in a seven-game span. He completed 27 of 40 passes.

The Tar Heels and freshman sensation Maye closed the regular season with dispiriting one-score losses to Georgia Tech and the Wolfpack ahead of the ACC title game clash with No. 8 Clemson next Saturday.

Maye finished 29 of 49 for 233 yards, one interception and the tying TD toss on fourth-and-goal to Green, which followed an apparent touchdown catch by John Copenhaver that was overturned on a replay review.

“They missed one field goal, and we missed two and that’s what the game came down to,” Brown said. “I thought about going for it on the fourth-and-3 at the end (in the second overtime), but we were playing really good on defense.”

Maye’s 14-yard, third-down scramble with 7:53 to play allowed the Tar Heels to pull even for the first time since early in the first quarter.

N.C. State got off to a strong start. After forcing a North Carolina punt, the Wolfpack needed three plays to score on Jack Chambers‘ 2-yard quarterback keeper.

Finley hooked up with a diving Terrell Timmons Jr. in the end zone from 28 yards out, giving Timmons his first career touchdown early in the second quarter.

Elijah Green‘s 9-yard run gave the Tar Heels a boost with 5:03 left in the half. Dunn’s 29-yard field goal on the last play of the half pushed N.C. State’s edge to 17-10.

RECORD DAY

Dunn broke the ACC scoring record in the first half with his second extra point. In the second half, his 43-yard field goal attempt was wide left, his first miss in 23 chances this season.

SECONDARY ISSUES

North Carolina was without starting cornerback Tony Grimes because of an injury. The Tar Heels lost starting safety Cam'Ron Kelly in the first half and starting cornerback Storm Duck in the second half to game-ending injuries.

STATE STUFF

N.C. State beat in-state foes East Carolina, Wake Forest and North Carolina by a combined 13 points. “It’s awesome to have that,” Doeren said.

The Wolfpack and Tar Heels had split two previous overtime games.

THE TAKEAWAY

N.C. State: The Wolfpack relied on defense to contain one of the country’s most explosive offenses. The win was a nice consolation prize for a team that started 5-1 and looked like a contender in the Atlantic Division.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels weren’t crisp for most of the game and still nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages. This will sting, particularly given the failure to score a touchdown in OT.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

North Carolina could drop out of the AP Top 25 with consecutive home losses, though losing in two overtimes might temper the damage.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: Awaits a bowl invitation.

North Carolina: Prepares to face Clemson for the ACC title in Charlotte.

ACC in danger of being excluded from 2nd straight playoff

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA — Clemson’s loss at Notre Dame was a severe blow to the ACC’s hopes of landing a team in the College Football Playoff.

Last weekend’s 35-14 setback at three-loss Notre Dame dropped Clemson (8-1, 6-0) from the list of the nation’s unbeaten teams. The Tigers moved from No. 5 down to a season-low No. 12 in this week’s AP Top 25.

Suddenly the ACC is in danger of being shut out of the playoff for the second straight year.

The ACC is without a top-10 team in the AP poll. Even with only three weeks remaining in the regular season, the league’s coaches believe it’s too early to count out the Tigers or other teams, including one-loss North Carolina.

“A lot of ball left and a lot of opportunity left,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “The only thing off the table for us is that we know we’re not going to be undefeated.”

The AP Top 25 has experienced some serious shuffling this season. When it comes to reviving the ACC’s sagging playoff hopes, the league needs more upsets of the current contenders for the four-team playoff.

“I think almost every year, a one-loss team makes it to the to the finals, it seems like,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “Clemson’s still a one-loss team. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. I think that these next four weeks are going to be huge in college football.”

No. 15 North Carolina (8-1, 5-0) sits atop the ACC’s Coastal Division. Clemson already has clinched the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Swinney is using his team’s 2016 national championship season as a reminder that dour projections in early November aren’t always accurate. He said the Tigers were counted out following their first loss to an unranked Pittsburgh team in early November. Clemson then won its final five games, including playoff wins over Ohio State and Alabama.

“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want to make it to the playoffs, but I think right now our focus is getting back on track,” Clemson left tackle Jordan McFadden said. “If we win out, I think (playoffs) will take care of themselves.”

Clemson’s loss to Notre Dame doesn’t just hurt the Tigers. The loss removes some of the glitter that would be added to North Carolina’s season if the Tar Heels reach the ACC championship game and beat the Tigers. A win over an undefeated Clemson team would have had more impact on the CFP committee than a win over a one-loss team.

North Carolina coach Mack Brown just wants his Tar Heels to take care of their business this weekend at Wake Forest. Brown said playoff projections have been different every week.

“Your four changed every week,” Brown said, adding experts keep saying “‘They’re a lock’ and then (top teams) get upset. And it happened this weekend.

“It’s just crazy to see how much difference is there. So what we’ve told our guys is just keep playing. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about anything except Wake Forest. And really and truly, all the other talk about College Football Playoff and championships and all those things are fun for fans, they’re fun for media. They’re only distractions for kids.”

Clemson is No. 10 in this week’s CFP ranking. North Carolina is No. 15, one spot ahead of North Carolina State (7-2, 3-2). Florida State (6-3, 4-3) is No. 23.

The ACC had a team in the first seven playoffs. Clemson made the four-team playoff in six consecutive years, winning two championships, before missing the cut last year. Florida State represented the ACC in the 2015 playoff.

Clemson wasn’t the only top-five team in the AP Top 25 to lose last week. Tennessee dropped from a tie for No. 2 to No. 5 with a loss at No. 1 Georgia. Another Southeastern Conference game with playoff implications was No. 6 Alabama’s loss at No. 15 LSU.

More upsets could open the door for Clemson or North Carolina.

“There’s just a lot of football left,” Doeren said. “And I don’t think the ACC is out of it yet. I don’t. I think there’s a lot that can happen.”

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

Lance King/Getty Images
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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.