NC State football dominated the Western Carolina Catamounts 41-0 by establishing the ground game early and often behind a stellar defensive performance.
The Pack (2-0) got off to a slow start in the first quarter, punting on three of its first four drives, but converted three touchdown drives in a row in the second quarter to put the game well out of reach for the Catamounts (0-2).
“I didn’t think [redshirt sophomore Matthew McKay] was very sharp in the first quarter,” said head coach Dave Doeren. “Didn’t really give our running game an opportunity with two incompletions in the first drive, but then he just kind of settled in.”
Up 3-0, NC State finally found the endzone in a 7-play, 65-yard drive capped off with three straight rushes from sophomore running back Ricky Person Jr. to move the Pack up 10-0.
Just five minutes later, McKay drove down the field again, this time on the back of freshman running back Zonovan “Bam” Knight. After a 17-yard pass to freshman receiver Keyon Lesane, NC State fed the ball to Knight for five consecutive plays where he picked up 45 yards and a touchdown.
Another Pack defensive stand forced a punt with 2:15 left in the first half and McKay completed this two-minute drill with his arm. He completed five of six passes for 69 yards capped off with a 1-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior tight end Cary Angeline.
NC State went from up 3-0 to up 24-0 in just 10 minutes of play. Going into halftime, McKay was 12 for 17 with 129 yards and a touchdown while Knight had 75 yards and a TD and Person gained 39 yards and a TD.
Coming out of halftime, the story was the same as NC State continued to put up points on the Catamounts. McKay put together a 10-play, 65-yard drive that stalled with two incomplete passes inside the 10-yard line and ended in a field goal by sophomore kicker Christopher Dunn.
On the defensive side, the Pack completely shut down Western Carolina to 98 yards receiving and 8 yards rushing. Quarterback Will Jones went 15-27 for 98 yards and was sacked three times.
“To hold a team to 100 yards is a pretty solid performance,” Doeren said. “We kept the ball in front, tackled well, didn’t give up any explosive plays and they didn’t score any points.”
The Catamounts also punted 10 times throughout the game, including six three-and-outs forced by the Pack, quickly getting the ball back to the offense.
The next drive after the field goal was the most impressive of the afternoon, going 98 yards on 17 plays ending in Knight’s second touchdown of the game. NC State ran all over WCU with Knight, Person, freshman Jordan Houston and redshirt junior Will Dabbs all over 40 yards rushing for the day.
At the end of the third quarter, redshirt sophomore Bailey Hockman came in for McKay, who finished 18 for 28, 200 yards and a touchdown. A different quarterback, but the same result for NC State as Houston led a Pack touchdown drive with 39 yards rushing and the score to make it 41-0.
“Coach [Des] Kitchings was telling us that the running back core was probably going to be the best part of the offense this year,” Houston said. “We have to live up to that expectation. We're just working hard to try and make people believe that.”
The Pack defense finally came up with a turnover in the closing seconds when redshirt sophomore defensive end Xavier Lyas forced a fumble that was recovered by redshirt freshman linebacker C.J. Hart Jr. to close out the game.
“We got a lot of guys out there; we played a ton of people, which is great for our roster,” Doeren said. “I think we came out of the game relatively healthy, which is really good. Nice hot day, and we are looking forward to the next one.”
NC State will travel to Morgantown, West Virginia in week three to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers at noon on Saturday, Sept. 14.