NC State capped the regular season with a 39-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium — its fifth straight victory after the bye week. The win was the Wolfpack’s third consecutive win over the Tar Heels in as many seasons.
Here is what those who covered the game are saying about the Pack’s ninth win of the season.
The energy inside and around Carter-Finley Stadium started to build long before kickoff. No. 22 NC State’s tailgate lots filled up early, the fans packed the Walk of Champions and some players were already talking trash during pregame warmups.
All of the tension, stakes and heightened emotions around this rivalry matchup did not faze the Pack. The program embraced those feelings and played within itself at perhaps the highest level of execution it showcased all season.
Head coach Dave Doeren wanted to see his team play with emotion. This game means a lot to the program, and the Wolfpack does not shy away that. NC State kicked off this game ready to channel that energy into success.
“I told the players I wanted them to be emotional in this game, but I wanted them to use their emotions, not lose their emotions and there’s a difference in that,” Doeren said.
Noah Fleischman, The Wolfpacker — How No. 22 NC State’s mid-season turnaround led to a 5-game winning streak
NC State beat Clemson and Miami out of its idle week before it hit the road and won at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack capped its regular-season rise through the ACC standings with a commanding 39-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Wolfpack’s midseason turnaround caught the eyes of everyone around the country and led to a No. 22 ranking in the most recent College Football Playoff top 25.
But how did the Wolfpack go from a sputtering offense that could not move the ball, which led to a three-score loss to the Blue Devils’ backup quarterback, to one of the best-performing teams in the ACC down the stretch? It had a complete buy-in from its coaches and players.
“I think it’s been one heck of a five-week window,” Doeren said Saturday night after his third straight win over the Tar Heels. “Super proud of our players and our coaches. … Everything I asked these kids to do, they did. Control the clock, win the turnover margin, be the most physical team in the stadium. No matter what, keep playing.”
Jadyn Watson-Fisher, The News & Observer — Three takeaways from N.C. State’s emphatic, 39-20, college football win over North Carolina
It was over by halftime for the Heels.
A lot of football was still to be played but the outcome was all but decided. Players were slipping on the turf. Drake Maye was being harassed in the pocket and off-target throwing the ball, and Omarion Hampton, the ACC’s leading rusher, was a non-factor running the ball.
As for UNC’s defense, it couldn’t stop the Pack from scoring points. The Pack was six-for-six in the red zone while the Heels were firing blanks on possession after possession. UNC could not convert a third down, going 0-5.
Luke DeCock, The News & Observer — NC State linebacker Payton Wilson deals one final rivalry blow as Wolfpack thumps UNC
Drake Maye limped off with nine minutes to go, after the umpteenth big play by Payton Wilson, who dragged the North Carolina quarterback down from behind for a sack. Maye stayed down for a bit, grabbing at his left ankle, then watched the next few plays from the sidelines, his uniform covered in mud from all the time he spent on the turf.
There wasn’t much left he could do anyway.
Wilson won that battle, N.C. State the war. Maye and Wilson. Wilson and Maye. Each on their own side of the ball, they have dragged their teams along this season; Maye at the beginning as the Tar Heels jumped out to a 6-0 start, Wilson the rock at the heart of an N.C. State defense that never wavered even when the Wolfpack was left for dead after an abysmal loss at Duke.
They both left everything on the field in their final ACC games, but there was only one incandescent star at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, and it wasn’t the one who started the season as a Heisman contender. It was the ageless N.C. State linebacker — it just seems like Wilson arrived on campus with Philip Rivers — in his final home game, dealing one final, devastating rivalry blow.”
Chip Alexander, The News & Observer — ‘A bummer the way it ended’: UNC coach Mack Brown, QB Drake Maye respond to loss to Pack
Mack Brown was asked about retirement and Drake Maye was asked if he had played his last game at North Carolina soon after the Tar Heels’ dismal 39-20 loss to N.C. State.
The answers Saturday were predictable. Brown curtly said he planned to return as UNC’s coach, his eyes flashing a little anger as he spoke. Maye, a quarterback destined for the NFL, said no decision had been made on entering the 2024 pro draft, nor if he would play in the Tar Heels’ bowl game.
These were questions that have been posed before Saturday. It was only natural they’d be asked again with the Heels (8-4, 4-4 ACC) ending a regular season that began with promise and ended so poorly after a 6-0 start filled with possibilities.
Aaron Beard, Associated Press — NC State jumps to big lead on rival North Carolina and cruised to 39-20 win
Brennan Armstrong threw three touchdown passes while North Carolina State’s defense dominated North Carolina’s Drake Maye-led offense on the way to a 39-20 rivalry win on Saturday night.
Kevin “KC” Concepcion had two scoring catches in the latest strong performance for the Wolfpack’s freshman receiver, part of an efficient offense that kept control of the ball while leaving Maye and the Tar Heels’ high-powered attack on the sideline much of the night.
Then again, N.C. State (9-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) was in just as much control on the defensive end en route to a fifth straight win.