It’s not often N.C. State opens the college football season with a 5-0 record.
A 28-23 win over Boston College on Saturday made the Wolfpack 5-0 for the first time since 2002 and only the sixth time in the past 90 years.
Five key plays from the Wolfpack’s home win over the Eagles:
1. A missed shot
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Score: N.C. State 0, Boston College 0
Time: 13:32 first quarter
Field position: 2nd and 8 at the N.C. State 34
Sometimes the plays the other team can’t make are just as important as the ones you do.
On Boston College’s first possession of the game, the Eagles picked up two first downs and moved the ball down to N.C. State’s 34-yard line.
Quarterback Anthony Brown hit his first pass, a short confidence-builder to receiver Kobay White for 10 yards. His second pass was a deep shot to senior playmaker Jeff Smith.
Smith, the lone receiver to Brown’s right, ran a post route and got by N.C. State cornerback Nick McCloud at the 15-yard line. Chris Ingram, the corner on the opposite side, actually tried to help McCloud but couldn’t make up enough ground.
An “A” gap blitz from linebacker Germaine Pratt pushed Brown to his right. Brown was able to sidestep Pratt and set up for the deep shot to Smith. Smith had a lot of room in the end zone but Brown’s pass missed him by about 3 yards.
That’s the kind of play — on the road, on the first drive, without your best player — that gives an underdog confidence. Certainly Boston College, with its recent success at Carter-Finley Stadium, would have fed off of a touchdown there.
“You get in these games and it’s usually a handful of plays that dictate a lot more than everyone realize,” Eagles coach Steve Addazio said. “It’s like that first drive. We go down there and have a chance to stick it in for a touchdown. You’ve got to make those plays. Usually when you don’t, they come back to haunt you.”
After the second-down miss, Brown was sacked on the next play and then running back Travis Levy was stopped short on fourth-down passing play.
2. Crisis averted
Score: N.C. State 7, Boston College 0
Time: 5:03 first quarter
Field position: 3rd and 6 at the N.C. State 16
Freshman Thayer Thomas was eager to make a play on a punt return, a little too eager. Thomas was lined up under a punt at N.C. State’s 25-yard line with two BC defenders running at him. Instead of calling fair catch, Thomas tried to return the punt.
BC safety Mehdi El Attrach hit Thomas and knocked the ball loose. Attrach recovered it at the 20.
The Eagles were in business and got a 5-yard run from Ben Glines on first down and then a 1-yard loss by Glines on second down.
On third down, Brown tried to hit tight end Tommy Sweeney at the goal line. Safety Dexter Wright jumped the route and nearly had an interception.
The Eagles had to settle for a 33-yard field goal. Three points after the sudden change on a short field, that’s a trade N.C. State will take every time.
“For our defense to come out and play the way they did, with some of the situations that we put them in as an offense, it was a truly incredible performance by those guys,” said N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley, who threw two interceptions in the first half.
3. A smart option on any down
Score: N.C. State 14, Boston College 3
Time: 1:05 second quarter
Field position: 4th and 3 at the BC 35
N.C. State has been able to score late in the first half in each of the past four games. With 65 seconds left, and facing fourth down, Finley went to receiver Kelvin Harmon.
Harmon, who made several spectacular catches against Boston College, made just a “routine” one on fourth down to pick up a key first down.
Lined up to Finley’s right, with Emeka Emezie in the slot, Harmon ran an 7-yard out. He got his body in front of cornerback Elijah Jones, almost like a box out in basketball, and jumped and pulled in the pass from Finley for the first down.
Finley targeted Harmon 11 times, including five times on either third or fourth down.
“Third down is all about matchups and I feel really good about Kelvin all the time,” Finley said.
Harmon finished with nine catches for a game-high 128 yards and a touchdown.
N.C. State finished that drive two plays later with Finley finding Jakobi Meyers for a 4-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left in the half and a 21-3 lead.
4. Pratt’s theft
Score: N.C. State 28, Boston College 16
Time: 6:09 fourth quarter
Field position: 2nd and 2 at the N.C. State 5
When Glines ran into the pile at N.C. State’s 3-yard line, Wolfpack defensive tackle Eurndraus Bryant had an inkling of how the play might end.
“I knew that was going to happen at least one time this year,” Bryant said. “(Pratt) practices that.”
Glines was stood up at the 3 and the pile wasn’t really moving but the officials didn’t blow the play dead. Pratt went into the scrum and ripped the ball from Glines’ hands. The whistle clearly came after Pratt had secured the ball.
The play was ruled a fumble on the field and Addazio was not pleased. His protest didn’t matter, though, because of the timing of the whistle.
If you were wondering who would replace Bradley Chubb as N.C. State’s leader and best playmaker on defense, Pratt is the answer.
Pratt had a sack on the same drive and finished with a team-high 13 tackles. The senior linebacker leads the ACC with 9.8 tackles per game.
5. ‘Clutch’ call
Score: N.C. State 28, Boston College 23
Time: 1:17 fourth quarter
Field position: 3rd and 7 at the BC 33
The safe play, with Boston College out of timeouts, was probably to run the ball.
With the Eagles geared up to stop the run, they probably would have forced a punt. If the clock went right for them, they could have had one last gasp, with about 25 seconds, to try to complete the comeback.
But N.C. State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz wasn’t interested in playing it safe.
Drinkwitz put receiver Steph Louis in Jaylen Samuels’ old “H” position (offset from the tight end on the right side of the formation). Finley ran a play-fake to running back Reggie Gallaspy and then found Louis alone at the 22-yard line.
Louis reached back with both hands, caught the ball and then picked up another 10 yards for good measure.
“I thought the play call by Eli was clutch,” Doeren said.
N.C. State was able to run out the clock and pick up its first home win over Boston College since 2012.