NC State defeats Syracuse 24-17
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Pharoah turned out to be king for North Carolina State as the Wolfpack defeated Syracuse 24-17 on Saturday for its first Atlantic Coast Conference win in nearly two years and first road win since 2010.
Defensive end Pharoah McKever pedaled back into coverage, intercepted an AJ Long pass on his own 18-yard line and ran down the right sideline for an 82-yard go-ahead touchdown, turning a 14-9 deficit into a 15-14 Wolfpack lead with 2:52 to go in the third.
A shovel pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett to running back Matt Dayes gave N.C. State a two-point conversion and a 17-14 margin. An 18-yard touchdown pass from Brissett to Shadrach Thornton with 2:14 to go sealed the win for the Wolfpack (5-4, 1-4).
The game-changing play sucked the momentum out of the Orange (3-6, 1-4), which managed only a 50-yard field goal by Cole Murphy with 17 seconds remaining. Linebacker Dayshawn Davis recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran for what fans thought to be a game-tying touchdown but the ball was dead where he recovered it. Josh Jones intercepted a Hail Mary pass with 1 second left.
McKever, a redshirt freshman who began his collegiate career as a wide receiver, was among seven North Carolina State players suspended for the team’s game against Louisville on Oct. 18 due to a BB gun incident at an off-campus residence. He saw no action in games against Georgia Southern and Florida State but earned his first start at South Florida.
Against Syracuse, he only had the biggest play of the game.
The 6-foot-6 Long Island, N.Y. native said he simply jumped into Long’s passing lane for the decisive score.
“I was gassed until the next series,” he admitted. “It felt good. I played wide receiver last year and I really haven’t run that far in a long time, so when I got the ball, my intention was to just go and keep going. This is definitely the highlight of my football career.”
The win broke a four-game losing streak and gave second-year coach Dave Doeren his first conference win after 12 losses, the longest streak in school history. The Wolfpack’s last conference win came Nov. 24, 2012 against Boston College.
“I’m excited to get our first ACC win,” Doeren said. “Winning on the road means a lot to me, too. It’s been a problem in the past. It’s good to be back on the winning side of things. It was good to see the light in our players faces right now. I’m proud of them for fighting. It’s not about me. It’s all about them.
“The defense carried us today,” he added. “It was an old-school football game — field position, defense, sacks, hits.”
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who saw his team rally from a 9-0 deficit to a 14-9 lead, said the momentum definitely shifted following McKever’s play.
“Momentum is a big deal in sports and football and trying to bounce back from it,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t answer. You keep trying to fight and get that next spark going.”
The loss leaves Syracuse with no margin for error entering the team’s final three games of the year. The Orange must win all three to be bowl eligible.
“We’ve got to win out and pull off a miracle, but let’s do it,” he said.
The Wolfpack came out in a no-huddle offense in its first drive and it proved effective. Brissett, who was 20 of 32 for 186 yards, completed his first five passes, two of them to Bo Hines, but the drive stalled on the Syracuse 26 and the Wolfpack settled for a 43-yard field goal by Niklas Sade with 12:10 to go in the quarter. With that kick, Sade tied Mike Cofer for the N.C. State career lead in field goals with 50.
N.C. State employed some trickery on its second scoring drive. Fullback Jaylen Samuels ran for 18 yards and a first down out of punt formation from the North Carolina State 35. Again, the drive stalled and Sade kicked a 43-yard field goal with 12:10 to go in the second quarter and connected from 21 yards on the next possession made it 9-0.
Syracuse’s offense, playing with a banged-up line, was inept for much of the first half. SU’s first drive covered just 20 yards and its next three possessions were three-and-out. The Orange had just 14 yards total offense in the first quarter. N.C. State punter Wil Baumann did his part in the first half, pinning Syracuse deep in its territory_at the 2, 14 and 5-yard-lines.
SU’s offense came alive on its last possession of the first half. Long, coming off a 2-of-12 passing effort against Clemson last week, led the Orange on a 12-play, 96-yard, aided by a pass interference call on cornerback Niles Clark on third- and-10 from the Syracuse 18. Long connected on a 30-yard pass to Jarrod West on third-and-3 from the Syracuse 40 and hit Steve Ishmael for 9 yards on the next play. On second-and-10, Long hit Ben Lewis at the right pylon for a 15-yard touchdown with just 15 seconds remaining to make it 9-7.
Syracuse carried its momentum into the second half, scoring on a 10-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession of the half to take a 14-9 lead. The drive was kept alive on a pass interference call against Justin Burris on third-and-12 from the Syracuse 34. Six plays later, Long hit freshman Steve Ishmael on a tumbling 25-yard touchdown pass, giving the Orange a 14-9 lead.
The turning point of the game would come several minutes later. SU got the ball with 5:40 to go in the third and marched from its own 34 to the Wolfpack 22 when disaster struck for Long and the Orange on McKever’s interception return which turned out to be the decisive play of the game.
The Wolfpack defense, 90th in the country against the run, held the Orange to just 38 yards rushing for the game.