It ends with a win but not exactly the way N.C. State’s seniors had wanted.
The 33-21 win over North Carolina on Saturday was the third in four years for the Wolfpack’s class of 20 seniors.
The win made the Wolfpack 6-2 in the ACC – for the first time in 23 years – and gave it eight wins in the regular season for the first time in coach Dave Doeren’s tenure.
But, N.C. State’s seniors, couldn’t quite help feeling like there was a “but.”
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“I’m not ecstatic,” senior defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “Eight-and-four wasn’t what we wanted, but I know these guys next year are going to finish all these close games and do what we thought we would do this year.”
The Wolfpack had wanted to compete for its first ACC title since 1979 but finished a game behind Clemson in the Atlantic Division.
It wanted to win 10 games for only the second time in school history but had close losses – by seven points in the opener to South Carolina and by six points at Wake Forest – slip out of its grasp.
“It’s not what we wanted, but hey, sometimes you don’t get what you want in life,” senior linebacker Airius Moore said.
It started out as a difficult “Senior Day” for the Wolfpack. Emotions were high and bit more difficult to control.
NC State's Wolfpack landed a hard-fought win over UNC's Tar Heels while at home in Raleigh's Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday November 25th. Julia Walljwall@newsobserver.com
Chubb said he started to cry in the locker room before the team came out for introductions.
“I broke down because I love these guys so much,” Chubb said.
Senior running back/receiver Jaylen Samuels said he had a hard time controlling his emotions after seeing his mom and dad on the field before the game.
“It was kind of tough,” Samuels said. “Just really thinking, ‘Dang, this is really our last game in the Carter.’ ”
And then the game started and N.C. State couldn’t quite get going. Senior guard Tony Adams, a main cog on offense, got hurt on Ryan Finley’s 5-yard touchdown run near the end of the first half and didn’t play in the second half.
Senior cornerback Johnathan Alston was called for three pass interference penalties. Samuels was slow to get in gear, by his standards, until a late 10-yard touchdown run.
“You’re always worried in the first part of the first quarter about them being too emotional, which I think we were,” Doeren said.
Chubb said it was difficult to process the emotions and still play the actual game.
“It definitely was hard,” Chubb said. “You wanted to feel every type of emotion – happy, sad, bittersweet. It was all there.”
A pair of juniors, linebacker Germaine Pratt and running back Nyheim Hines did their best to pick up the seniors. Pratt had a team-high 10 tackles as N.C. State held the Tar Heels to 83 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Hines ran for 196 yards and two quick-strike scores – one from 54 yards and another from 48 – to save the Wolfpack offense.
“I appreciate him for stepping up in a big game like this and doing it for the seniors,” Samuels said of Hines. “That’s really all we were playing for this week – the seniors.”
The senior class has been through a lot, Doeren said, from the “good, bad, terrific, ugly.” Four straight bowl games are part of their legacy, so will close losses.
But Saturday’s win did help push the senior class into its own category. N.C. State had only two teams go 6-2 in ACC play, in 1992 under Dick Sheridan and two years later under Mike O’Cain. That’s it.
“I think it’s a big deal for this program,” Doeren said. “You talk about going in the right direction, I think that’s a great sign of what we’re doing here.”
And this class gets bragging rights over UNC, with three wins in four years, and finally a home win after Tar Heels.
“This is a special group of seniors, and we wanted to go out the right way,” Samuels said. “We did. We left the field with a victory and that’s all we wanted.”
NC State football coach Dave Doeren talks about the 'special group of guys', the seniors, after the Wolfpack's victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, NC Saturday Nov. 25, 2017. Julia Walljwall@newsobserver.com
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio