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GREENVILLE, NC (AP) — North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren watched from the sideline for the late basket that could have passed his 13th-ranked team sailing away uprights, then offered a much more restrained than jubilant fist-pump.
The Wolfpack had survived – and that was about as positive as anyone dressed in red could be about Saturday’s 21-20 win at East Carolina that saw the Pirates miss two late critical kicks .
“I think they’re probably angrier than I will be right now,” Doeren said of his players.
NC State went from 14 in the third quarter to barely hanging on thanks to a pair of plays that weren’t even under their control. The Pirates were in a position to hand the Wolfpack a surprising loss when they won the ball late in the game, not to mention offering Owen Daffer a chance for redemption after firing an extra point level on the left after the court Rahjai Harris touchdown with 2:58 remaining.
The Holton Ahlers keeper put up a 41-yard field goal in the dying seconds for Daffer in the season opener for each school. But he missed this one right with 5 seconds left, prompting many fans in the once rowdy crowd to put their hands to their heads in disbelief.
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Shyheim Battle emphatically nodded the kick was no good as Doeren offered that fist pump for the Wolfpack, but the moment quickly felt more like relief after another bumpy trip to Greenville.
This time, at least, everything ended in victory.
“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 are capable of doing.”
Leary, the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown, but had a costly interception with about 5 minutes left that set up the late touchdown. of East Carolina. The Wolfpack were also empty on six plays on the goal line in the fourth quarter, first with a fumble on the goal line from Jordan Houston, then with the talented young Demie Sumo-Karngbaye who was stuffed four consecutive times to complete another workout.
In fact, the difference – Daffer’s failures aside – came from a punt blocked by Jasiah Provillon deep in the ECU 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 yards in the fourth quarter.
“I know nobody outside of Greenville gave us a lot of luck, but those kids never doubted,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “We should have won the football game.”
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NC State: Everything has been set up for the Wolfpack to take a big leap forward in Doeren’s 10th season, from Leary’s presence on the program to match his all-time highest preseason ranking in the Associated Press poll. NC State led 21-7 at halftime, only to see this one almost end as another loss at a stadium where the Wolfpack had lost four of five meetings.
ECU: Houston’s first three years were 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 crowds. The Pirates continued to drag before making a late move to a big upset. It could provide confidence going forward for the American Athletic Conference program — or it could be a blow given how it ended.
THE HALF GAME
Sumo-Karngbaye rushed for 79 yards and a score to lead the Wolfpack ground game, providing a physical and smashing presence.
This included a 22-yard run to the 1 early in the fourth that had him keeping his legs moving, bouncing or going through about half a dozen purple jerseys in a performance Doeren said was a highlight for the Wolfpack. .
THE FINAL BLOW
The Pirates had no more time-outs on the Ahlers keeper, so they had to run Daffer and the placement team from the touchline with time running out. But the Wolfpack struggled with injuries 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 was probably a bit in his head,” Doeren said of his thoughts from the touchline.
Daffer had earned a purse after throwing a 54-yard field goal as time ran out to beat Navy last year.
“He feels worse than anyone right now,” Houston said. “We have to support him. And he has to get over it. But it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
CONSEQUENCES OF THE SURVEY
NC State doesn’t look sharp in this one, and it could cost the Wolfpack with voters for the upcoming AP Top 25.
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NC State: Charleston Southern of the Championship Subdivision visits the Wolfpack next Saturday.
ECU: The Pirates host Old Dominion – who beat Virginia Tech in their Friday opener – next Saturday.