Ain’t nothing finer than beating Carolina!
Published 5:04 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023
For the third consecutive season (and six out of the last eight years for those who keep up with such things), NC State has notched a win against their arch rivals in the sport of football.
The latest “w” came courtesy of a 39-20 victory over the Tar Heels this past Saturday night in Raleigh. And if you go all the way back to the 2007 season, this most recent win is NC State’s 12th victory over their rivals. Saturday’s beatdown – which wasn’t as close as the score would indicate, was reminiscent of the 41-10 rout of the “baby blues” in 2008 and the 35-7 spanking in 2014.
However, to keep things in the grand perspective, UNC still leads the overall series 68-39-6 in the rivalry that dates back to 1894. But if the truth be told, NC State wasn’t very good at football in its early days as the Wolfpack won only three of its first 34 meetings vs. the Tar Heels. We didn’t have much an identity in the early stages of our athletic history…known either as the “Farmers” or the “Mechanics” until an alumnus came up with “Wolf Pack” in 1921.
But no matter our mascot, we always seemed destined to play “second fiddle” to the bluebloods over in Chapel Hill. Thusly, any win we could muster against them was a moment to savor.
As fate would have it, the first two State vs. Carolina games I attended in Raleigh (1973 and 1975) were both won by the Wolfpack (28-26 and 21-20 respectively).
So when the 2023 season started, I circled Nov. 25 on my desk calendar at work as the date of THE GAME.
Things looked bleak for my ‘Pack as the season moved along. We were underwhelming in a 24-14 season opening win at UConn and then came home to get embarrassed by Notre Dame, 45-24, on national TV.
NC State bounced back to win three of the next four games, but then went to Durham and got our tails whipped 24-3 vs. Duke.
I have to hand it to coach Dave Doeren and his staff after that low point of the season. They rallied the players for a key win (24-17) vs. longtime nemesis Clemson. Then came back-to-back defensive gems vs. Miami and Wake Forest (20-6 and 26-6 respectively) followed by a hard-fought 35-28 win at Virginia Tech. That was our first win in Blacksburg since the 2004 season.
Meanwhile, ‘Carolina begins the 2023 season with six straight wins and got as high as #10 in the national rankings. That was before startling back-to-back losses against Virginia and Georgia Tech. They bounced back with home wins vs. Campbell and Duke followed by an 11-point loss on Nov. 18 at Clemson.
On Saturday in Raleigh, both teams entered the game with identical 8-3 overall records. That placed added emphasis on the outcome of this game as it meant the victor had the opportunity to have a 10-win season (depending, of course, on the results of whatever bowl game it plays in next month).
Thankfully, my Wolfpack now has the chance to end its season with 10 wins after its victory over UNC on Saturday. And we beat Carolina in resounding fashion as it marked our biggest margin of victory since the 35-7 win in 2014.
The Wolfpack amassed 504 yards of total offense in Saturday night’s win. That’s the most yards we’ve mustered against an ACC opponent since 2018 (518 yards in a win over Louisville).
Despite an injury to his ribs suffered in last week’s win at Virginia Tech, NCSU quarterback Brennan Armstrong played through the pain and put up some impressive passing numbers vs. UNC: 22 of 31 for 334 yards and three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That gave him a Passing Efficiency Rating of 193.4, his highest ever against an ACC opponent.
Kevin Concepcion, a true freshman who plays at a level far beyond his young age, topped the Pack’s stat sheet in two categories: 132 receiving yards on seven receptions (two of which were touchdowns) and 55 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
NC State’s well-balanced offense also showed up big in two other key statistics: zero turnovers and possessing the ball for 40 of the game’s 60 minutes.
On the other side of the ball, the ‘Pack forced three turnovers (two picks and a fumble). They limited UNC running back Omarion Hampton to a season low 28 rushing yards. Hampton entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher.
Heralded Tar Heel wide receiver Tez Walker caught only two passes for 29 yards vs. the Wolfpack.
NCSU’s defense was sparked, once again, by senior linebacker Payton Wilson. In his last-ever home game at Carter-Finley Stadium, Wilson was all over the field and a thorn in the side of the Tar Heels. Wilson finished his night’s work with 15 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, and an interception.
It’s like coach Doeren said on the ACC Network following the game, “if he (Wilson) doesn’t win any postseason (linebacker) awards then that’s highway robbery.”
I would tend to agree with Doeren, who with his efforts to guide the ‘Pack to a 9-3 overall record (6-2 in league play), is worthy of ACC Coach of Year honors.
And while passing out the “red-and-white” accolades, hats-off to the NCSU women’s cross country team who captured its third consecutive NCAA national championship on Nov. 18 in Charlottesville, VA.
Meanwhile, the NC State women’s basketball team is off to a 7-0 start. The 10th-ranked Wolfpack’s latest win was a 78-60 victory vs. third-ranked Colorado in the championship game of the Paradise Jam held in the Virgin Islands. That marked the second victory against a national top-10 team this season. NCSU upset then #2 UConn, 92-81, on Nov. 12 in Raleigh.
The Wolfpack is flying high in a number of sports. Ain’t that right, Steve Smith!!
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.