SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- — Four quarterback sacks. Six tackles for loss. One safety. An interception. A 98-yard kickoff return. Trailing 22-14 at the half against a one-win Syracuse team.
North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren was not a happy camper.
“I was far from calm. I was very upset, and I let them know it,” Doeren said. "(I) Demanded that we play the way we’re supposed to play the game. Called on every position group to step up and give us what they’re supposed to."
Message delivered. Message received.
Bailey Hockman hit Emeka Emezie with a 26-yard go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter and connected with Thayer Thomas for three more scores through the air and North Carolina rallied to defeat Syracuse 36-29 Saturday.
The win was the third straight for the Wolfpack (7-3, 6-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and the seventh consecutive loss for the Orange (1-9, 1-8). Linebacker Payton Wilson sacked Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper for an 11-yard loss on third-and-seven from the Wolfpack 7-yard line with 24 seconds remaining to preserve the win.
Syracuse still had a chance for the upset, but Culpepper spiked the ball on fourth down with one second left instead of going for a score.
“I thought in the second half, offensively, we really threw and caught the ball well, our offensive line picked up their stuff and adjusted to the different stunts and blitzes they were giving us in the first half when we weren’t blocking well,” Doeren added. "Defensively, we kept it in front, we stopped the run.
“I'm happy to win a game. Winning ugly’s okay. It’s a lot better than losing I can tell you that, so we’ll take it.”
The Syracuse defense came out strong and the Orange held their first halftime advantage since the third game of the year, a win over Georgia Tech. The Orange clung to a 29-27 lead after three but was held scoreless the rest of the way. Emezie's score with 14:14 to go gave the Wolfpack the lead for good as N.C. State scored 16 unanswered points to go from a 29-20 deficit to the final margin.
N.C. State held Syracuse to three yards on 25 attempts on the ground and just 257 yards of total offense.
““You have to be able to be balanced. You can win games being one-dimensional, but it’s hard," Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “Obviously, you want to throw that ball and then you play the fourth-down snap. Nobody wants to spike it on fourth down. There’s people making mistakes, but one mistake didn’t win or lose the game. There was other mistakes and people need to realize that.”
Hockman was 23 of 31 for 313 yards and four touchdowns. In addition to his scoring strike with Emezie, Hockman also connected with Thomas on scoring plays of 15, 31 and 9 yards, a career best for the wide receiver. Zonovan Knight ran seven yards for another Wolfpack score and Christopher Dunn added a 31-yard field goal.
Culpepper completed 23 of 45 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, a 60-yard pass play with Nykeim Johnson and a 13-yard scoring strike to Taj Harris, who had a career-best 13 receptions for 146 yards.
Just 13 seconds after Knight's run to open the scoring, freshman Trebor Pena tied the game at 7 on a 98-yard kickoff return for the Orange midway through the first quarter, and SU took a 13-7 lead on field goals of 45 and 23 yards by Andre Szmyt.
Syracuse held a moment of silence for former All-American safety Markus Paul, who died earlier this week.
THIRD DOWN'S A CHARM:
The Wolfpack was eight of 13 on third down, many of them on plays of more than 10 yards.
N.C. State: A heavy favorite entering the game, the Wolfpack had all they could handle against an undermanned Syracuse team but pulled it out, thanks to a career game from Hockman.
Syracuse: One thing you have to say about the Orange: they didn't go down without a fight. Where many teams would've mailed it in, Syracuse played with heart.
North Carolina State closes its season at home next Saturday against Georgia Tech
Syracuse closes its season on the road next Saturday against No. 2 Notre Dame.
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