Wolfpack rallies late, ends losing skid with 24-23 victory

Sep. 01, 2014 @ 05:29 PM

RALEIGH — Georgia Southern got a nice paycheck. But after never trailing the first 58 minutes, there was no victory for a bonus.

N.C. State rallied from a double figures fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Eagles 24-23 on Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium in the season-opener for each team.

The Wolfpack scored twice in the final seven minutes, going ahead to stay on Jacoby Brissett’s 35-yard pass to Matt Dayes with 1:37 to go. Niklas Sade booted the decisive extra point.

“The way we finished, it was all about of our summer conditioning to get us to this point,” Brissett said. “It was both sides, offense and defense.”

Brissett completed 15 of his final 17 passes, finishing the afternoon 28 of 40 for 291 yards.

The Wolfpack got a big break with 1:43 left when a bad snap in the shotgun was wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty. Brissett connected with Dayes up the right sideline on the next snap.

Facing fourth down at its 28 with 67 seconds left, Kevin Ellison’s pass over the middle to B.J. Johnson was defended by Jarvis Byrd, bobbled and dropped on Georgia Southern’s last chance.

“That was like a dream come true,” Byrd said. “I second-guessed myself of even coming back this season. But the passion and love was there. When I made that play, I was in tears to tell you the truth.”

Georgia Southern, which moved from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt Conference, was seeking to bookend its transition to the bowl subdivision with wins over SEC and ACC teams. The Eagles closed 2013, its last at the 63-scholarship level where it won six national titles, with a win at Florida.

Head coach Dave Doeren’s club snapped the program’s eight-game losing skid that ended his first season, coming up with a fumble at its 1-yard-line to avoid falling behind by three scores in the final period.

Instead of possibly going down by 17, the Wolfpack moved 99 yards in 12 snaps to an 11-yard touchdown hookup from Brissett to Bra’Lon Cherry with 6:55 to go.

“The first half we traded field goals for their touchdowns,” Doeren said. “We had a key takeaway, they ran a sneak, and we took the ball away. That was the play of the game.”

Ellison threw for 184 yards, hitting 9 of 16, and ran 20 times for 124 yards. Matt Breida damaged the Wolfpack defense at 9 yards a clip, finishing with 88 yards on 10 carries.

“Option football is a pain in the butt,” Doeren said. “But we held them to 23 points.”

Alex Hanks booted a 31-yard field goal with 3:35 to extend Georgia Southerns’s lead to 23-17. Ellison set up the score with a 52-yard keeper to the N.C. State 22.

Senior free safety Hakim Jones, a product of Southern Vance High School, saved the Wolfpack four points in the third quarter. His touchdown-saving tackle on Zach Walker’s 51-yard reception preceded Alex Hanks’ 19-yard field goal that pushed the Eagles’ lead to 20-10.

Antonio Glover’s tackle of the Wolfpack’s Shadrach Thornton on fourth-and-1 at the Georgia Southern 9 to begin the fourth quarter thwarted Doeren’s gamble while down 10 points. The Eagles carried the momentum into scoring range before fumbling at the 1 to the Wolfpack sophomore Monty Nelson.

“Players made plays that they didn’t make,” Doeren said. “We played a better fourth, and a better third. We kept playing and there was time on the clock.”

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.