This weekend the NC State football team visits 13th ranked Wake Forest for control of the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Wolfpack will travel to Winston-Salem for the 7:30 evening game to face the Demon Deacons on Truist Field this Saturday, Nov. 13. The game is scheduled to be televised on the ACC network.
NC State enters this game off back-to-back wins that kept the team’s chance at winning the Conference Title alive.
On Sept. 30th the Wolfpack protected home-field on homecoming weekend against a tough Louisville squad. It was a night full of celebration including North Carolina State video tributes for kicker Christopher Dunn on becoming the all-time leading scorer and wide receiver Emeka Emezie becoming the all-time leader in receptions in North Carolina State University history. The defense held up well in their first game without captain linebacker Isaiah Moore, allowing the competition to stay close before NC State would pull away behind 3 passing touchdowns from quarterback Devin O’Leary.
The Wolfpack controlled the game against their next opponent Florida State behind another impressive defensive performance and a well-balanced offensive performance. O’Leary again spread the ball around with a different receiver catching each of his four touchdown throws in back-to-back weeks. Tailback Trent Pennix led the team with 97 receiving yards on just three catches including his a touchdown for the second game in a row.
While the NC State offense is a balanced run and pass based attack O’Leary has been catching fire recently throwing for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in the two most recent games.
On O’Leary’s recent hot streak, safety Tanner Ingle said “It’s like watching an artist at work, literally he’s just dotting people up. It keeps up the morale, it allows us (defense) to get a break and not be winded when we go out there”.
Pennix also had something to say about the success of O’Leary and the offense. “Coming in 2018 with Devon, just seeing him grow and growing with him as well… you can see it on TV everybody is just a family and we’re here to play for our brothers and not be selfish” said Pennix.
When asked about the next man up mentality of the team Pennix said “… you just gotta go in with the mentality that you’re the best team in the ACC.” When asked if he believed that statement Pennix responded “Of course, of course”.
The win against Florida State solidified this football team as one of the best in program history, beating the esteemed Florida State and Clemson football programs in the same season for the first time since 2002.
Some members of the team took some time to recap some of the success they’ve had this season. Coach Dave Doeren “beating Florida state, Clemson and Louisville is a first for me, probably a first for most of us. When I first got here they were all 10 win teams… it says a lot about what we’ve been able to do here.”
Pennix said “I feel like it’s a really special day… we have a really special team.”
Ingle made sure to reiterate that the team has a mentality of “one day at a time”.
Wake Forest entered their game against UNC this past week undefeated and into the fourth quarter it looked like they would stay that way heading into their game against NC State, but a late comeback by the Tar Heels left Wake the loser of a 58-55 shoot-out. Wake Forest has a potent offense that has scored at least 35 points in every game this season.
After the loss, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson “In my mind we have a championship game next Saturday”.
“Playing the team with the best record in our league, a really good football team… they lead the ACC in a lot of categories… it’s gonna be a great game and a great challenge. I look forward to the opportunity and have a lot of respect for Coach Clawson,” said Doeren on Wake Forest.
This battle will see the Wolfpack’s best defense in the conference against what may be the conference’s best offense in Wake Forest. Something will have to give in this match-up as North Carolina State’s defense allows opponents to score 16 points per game whereas the Wake Forest offense averages 46 points per game.
After defeating Florida State, head coach Doeren said “We like having our back against the wall… keep disrespecting us. It’s good for our football team.”
With a win this weekend North Carolina State will only have to win two home games first against Syracuse and then the finale against rival North Carolina Chapel Hill to guarantee a trip to the ACC title game for the first time since the inaugural title game in 2005. With a loss the Wolfpack could still reach the title but would need Wake Forest to lose the following two games and Clemson to lose one of their last three.
The grind of the football season has begun to take its toll on the Wolfpack’s health. Six defensive starters including All-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson, leader Isaiah Moore, Cyrus Fagan, Savion Jackson, Tyler Baker-Williams and C.J Clark have been injured since the beginning of the season.
On the injuries Doreon said “If you wanted to pull the four most vocal leaders out of our defense we just did”. Yet the defense has persisted with a balanced effort led by LB Drake Thomas and S. Tanner Ingle who’ve had 20 and 23 tackles, respectively, in just the past two weeks since Elijah Moore’s injury.
The Wolfpack did receive positive news on the injury front as Tyler Baker-Williams will be able to return against Wake Forest while Savion Jackson will be day-to-day going forward.
When asked about the ability of the defense to perform at a high-level while sustaining injuries to important players, Ingle said “… it’s just becoming a thing with us. Next man up, no matter the situation props to (Devon) Betty props to JPL (Josh Pierre-Lewis) regardless of how much they play throughout the season, everyday they practice they prepare like they’re gonna play their game.”
The predictions have Wake Forest winning this game by a slim margin that suggest Homefield may be the difference maker in this battle. North Carolina State struggles on the road this year with both of their losses coming away from Carter Finley stadium while Wake Forest enters the game undefeated at home on the season. The Demon Deacons would like to capitalize off an added boost from the crowd as this is their last home game of the season.
This will be the 118th match-up between the former cross town rivals dating all the way back to 1895. Currently NC State leads the series with 67 wins, 41 losses, and 6 ties. Last year the teams played a back and forth high scoring game that saw NC State narrowly win by a score of 45-42.