NC State vs. Wake Forest score: Demon Deacons stun No. 14 Wolfpack with late comeback
NC State has reached tremendous heights as a program here in the last two years, solidifying and affirming the plan that Dave Doeren put in place for the program when he arrived from Northern Illinois in 2013. The Wolfpack entered Thursday night’s game against rival Wake Forest at 6-2 with a No. 14 ranking from the College Football Playoff selection committee, but they didn’t play the part of New Year’s Six contender in a 27-23 loss to the Demon Deacons at home.
Wake Forest ruled out starting quarterback Sam Hartman after the freshman suffered an injury in the loss to Syracuse last week. That thrust Jamie Newman into the starting role on a short week, on the road, and he was the spark that got the offense going in the second half. Newman has battled injuries throughout his career, at times unable to even practice, but he had some hard runs and key throws that carried this Deacs team to a top-15 win.
NC State quarterback Ryan Finley still stuffed the stat sheet, throwing for 374 yards, but it came on 52 attempts with just one touchdown. The Wolfpack offense was held back by a ground game that never got going, finishing with a 47 yards on 27 attempts. It was a game that provided a spotlight for this unit to put on a show, going up against a Wake Forest defense that has ranked near the bottom of the ACC, but Finley and the Wolfpack offense underperformed expectations. But that doesn’t mean that NC State failed to show up with some highlights in the passing game.
Doeren chose go for it on fourth down when NC State was in field goal range in the final minutes. The Wolfpack had already forced Clawson to burn all of Wake Forest’s timeouts, and if they had converted, the game was over. But a turnover on downs gave the ball back to Newman, down three with no timeouts and 99 seconds left on the clock.
The next gamble for NC State that didn’t pay off was to blitz Newman — who threw all three of his touchdown passes in the second half — as the Deacs went empty set with five wide receivers. Newman hung in the pocket long enough to deliver a strike to Jake Freudenthal, and when the few defenders in coverage got tangled up in the middle of the field, it allowed the Wake Forest tight end to run free for the game-winning score.
Here now are three things to know about NC State’s loss, and also what it means for Wake Forest.
1. NC State could fall out of the CFP Rankings: There might have been nine three-loss teams in the selection committee’s rankings this week, but NC State could end up on the outside looking in next Tuesday. At 6-3, NC State’s profile takes a major hit with the home loss to Wake Forest, and that Boston College win — the best win on the Wolfpack’s profile — might not carry the same weight after Clemson plays the Eagles on Saturday night.
2. One win closer to bowl eligibility: To have 12 significant contributors, many of them starters, lost for the season to injury and still make a bowl game would be an incredible indication of the program’s health under Clawson. It’s a short week with a limited rotation at nearly every position, and for Wake Forest to compete at a level where it’s got a shot to knock off a top-15 team in the fourth quarter is a huge credit to Clawson and his staff. It’s a recruiting, development and game planning credit, and one that should be overlooked even if that sixth win doesn’t come against Pitt or Duke. If Wake Forest does get picked for a bowl game, which could also happen at 5-7 if APR scores are the tiebreaker, it will be the third straight year Clawson has led the team to the postseason after going 3-9 in each of his first two seasons in Winston-Salem.
3. Wake Forest’s wide receivers are ridiculous: The Deacs passing offense has been a strength throughout the season, and Thursday night proved that the wide receiver room is strong enough to withstand a change at quarterback. Sage Surratt, Alex Bachman and Greg Dortch all made huge catches in the second half as Wake Forest made its charge back into the game. If Wake Forest makes it back to the postseason, then its wide receivers room is going to deserve a ton of the credit.