RALEIGH, NC — There was barely any time for the NC State Wolfpack football team to wallow in the afterglow of its biggest win in head coach Dave Doeren’s tenure, especially when a small bit of history was there for the taking just seven days afterward.
Junior running back Nyheim Hines rushed for a career-high 115 yards and a score while quarterback Ryan Finley continued his efficient play while throwing for a touchdown as the Wolfpack followed up their win in Tallahassee last week with a 33-25 victory over the Syracuse Orange, marking the team’s first 2-0 start in conference play since 2006. NC State also starts 4-1 to a season for the third consecutive year under Doeren.
“We haven’t been 2-0 in the conference in 11 years, and our senior class did that.” said Doeren in the postgame press conference. “I told them in practice this week, they were going to have to be great leaders this week, and they did a great job with that.”
Last Saturday afternoon saw NC State pull off a road victory over then No. 12 Florida State, and any possible signs of a hangover effect from that win were squashed early when the Wolfpack took their first two drives of the game down the field and set up two Carson Wise field goals for a 6-0 lead. On its third drive, NC State finally punched the ball into the end zone, driving 70 yards on just five plays while being aided by two Syracuse penalties totaling 27 yards. Finley found receiver Stephen Louis from 20 yards out with 13 seconds remaining in the first to give NC State a 13-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.
“We knew that if we got on [Syracuse] early it would make it tough for them, so we wanted to get them out of their comfort zone,” said Louis, who caught four passes for 67 yards and that touchdown in the game.
NC State took a 26-7 lead at the half, amassing 350 yards in the first 30 minutes while limiting Syracuse’s high-powered offense led by quarterback Eric Dungey. His counterpart, Finley, completed 20-of-33 passes for 186 yards and did not throw an interception, extending his streak of consecutive pass attempts without a pick to 246.
Syracuse, which found themselves in a hole and were not able to come back in last week’s nine-point road loss to LSU, could have been further behind going into the intermission, but Wise missed a 31-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the second quarter. That miss was the start of Syracuse’s rally in the third quarter, as the Orange outscored NC State 10-0 in the quarter. Dungey led the Orange on a touchdown drive to begin the third, spinning his way into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown run to cut Syracuse’s deficit to 26-14. A field goal two drives later cut NC State’s lead to nine.
However, that’s as close as Syracuse got in the ball game.
“We’ve got to find a way to start faster, that’s the bottom line,” said Syracuse head coach Dino Babers. “You can’t spot the LSU Tigers and the NC State Wolfpack leads like that and then expect to run them back down in their venues with their crowds behind them.”
Syracuse was undone by penalties today, as they committed 12 in the contest totaling 93 yards. Two of those came on the drive in the third quarter that resulted in Syracuse’s field goal, including an illegal formation penalty wiping out an 8-yard touchdown pass from Dungey to Steve Ishmael. Two plays later, a personal foul after a run by Dungey to the NC State 5-yard line set off a couple of skirmishes between the two teams. The Orange settled for a 38-yard Sterling Hofrichter field goal, but the chance to potentially cut their deficit to 26-21 went by the boards due to those self-inflicted errors.
“We’ll have to go back and check some of those [penalties]. We’re allowed to turn penalties in, and the officials tell us whether they were right or wrong,” said Babers.
Dungey completed passes for 30 of his 47 pass attempts for 385 yards and a passing touchdown to go along with his 44 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Ishmael, the nation’s leading receiver, had 120 receiving yards and caught Dungey’s touchdown in the fourth quarter to provide the final margin of the game. Ervin Phillips had a career day, hauling in 17 catching for 188 yards for Syracuse.
The Wolfpack put the game away with a Hines’ one-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter for a 33-17 lead. Hines has now rushed for a career high for a third consecutive game.
Late in the first quarter, NC State running back Dakwa Nichols suffered a season-ending leg injury after being brought down to the ground by the facemask by a Syracuse defender. He stayed down for several minutes before being carted off the field.
“Dakwa Nichols will be out for the season,” Doeren said. “I’m not sure of the extent of the injury, but he will have surgery on his knee tomorrow.”
Before Nichols was carted away, the entire Wolfpack team walked over to wish him well. He also flashed a thumbs-up sign to the crowd as he was being carted away.