NCSU vs. Clemson --Rush the Field

NC State fans rush the field after the Wolfpack beat Clemson in the game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 in Carter-Finley Stadium. This ended the longest streak for every time. The Wolfpack beat the Tigers 27-21 in double overtime.

A college football goliath fell Saturday afternoon as the NC State Wolfpack finally got over the hump against the Clemson Tigers. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t ever certain, but with a 27-21 double overtime victory, head coach Dave Doeren proved he could win the big game and didn’t hesitate to call it the biggest win of his tenure.

Doeren’s been a part of more than a few field rushes in his time as a coach, which spans back stints at Wisconsin and Kansas, but few are as sweet as this one. This is the victory the team had to deliver to its supporters, and boy did it deliver. Minutes after taking down the Tigers, students were already swarming the Belltower.

“They deserve to party like that,” Doeren said. “And [l] hope they stay safe. But that's what this is all about, you know, if they could rip the goalposts down and walk them down there and lean them up against the Belltower, that'd be even better. But it's an awesome thing, man, when you light [the Belltower] red like that.”

Nine years into leading the Wolfpack, Doeren was just 1-22 against teams that ended the year ranked — and that one was last year’s Liberty team. He was 4-18 against teams that were ranked when they played. The knock was that while NC State would sometimes lose to teams it shouldn’t lose to, the same was never true on the flip side.

After a crushing road defeat at the hands of a solid, but not great, Mississippi State squad, it seemed that even with the best roster State had fielded in a while, it couldn’t weather the bright lights. The offensive line couldn’t create holes. There was no pressure on the quarterback. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary couldn’t make plays. But it re-grouped against Furman with a blowout win, and surprisingly, looked competitive early against the five-star factory from South Carolina.

Clemson was kept in check through three quarters. Entering the fourth, the team was up 14-7 behind a stifling defense, a 53% mark on third down conversions and Leary doing just enough. Then Clemson’s offense came alive to tie things up. Then junior kicker Chris Dunn missed a 38-yarder as time expired in regulation, his third miss of the day. It felt like the 2020 Miami game. Or maybe 2018 vs. Wake Forest. Or 2016 and 2017’s Clemson matchups. “Close but no cigar” has been the descriptor for many a NC State team, so much so that it was simply familiar when things went wrong.

Wherever hope happens to exist, NC State s--- typically arrives to destroy it, but not for this team. Not today. With Clemson taking all the momentum into overtime, the team hunkered down. All three phases of the game came together in the post-regulation periods for the Wolfpack as the team handed Clemson its first loss to an unranked team since 2017, and achieved its first top-10 win since 2012. Of course, the defense drove the final stake in Clemson’s heart as it held the Tigers scoreless in the second overtime period.

“I wasn't here in 2016, but I remember watching it from home, and as soon as we went to overtime, I looked at the other captains Grant [Gibson], Leary and Drake [Thomas] and I said, ‘Yeah, not again. We're gonna win it this time,’” said redshirt junior Isaiah Moore. “We believed that and just the maturity of the team, I think you just saw that through the whole game.”

Clemson and NC State have a fraught relationship. To name just a few or their rifts, between the laptop controversy and Dabo Swinney’s subsequent trolling, Doeren’s comments about Clemson running back Wayne Gallman being knocked out of a game, and Clemson sending in a linebacker to attempt an extra point during a 2019 blowout loss in Carter-Finley, the two sides don’t appear to like each other at all. Little brothers everywhere can understand the value of Saturday’s win; Doeren was Ahab and Clemson was his whale, but this time around things had a different ending.

“I think you guys make a lot out of this thing between me and Dabo which doesn't exist,” Doeren said. “I have the ultimate respect for him and their staff and their team and it means a lot. He's made me a better coach. He's pushed me. We've tried hard to catch up to them, and we've developed our guys and we built an edge to us because of them. We wanted to beat them for a long time, we've had chances to beat them and we didn't, we didn't make the plays and we made the plays tonight.”

Maybe this is the year for NC State football, but this game has no fairy-tale ending for NC State. Beating Clemson makes the Wolfpack 1-0 in ACC play, and sights are set now on an ACC Championship berth. To achieve that, the Wolfpack has to defeat dangerous Wake Forest, UNC and Miami squads. Do that, and we’ll look back on this season as the one that put NC State football on the map.

“It’s huge, it’s definitely huge to beat a team like that,” Moore said. “[They’ve been] the standard in our conference and our league for the last few years. To come out with a win like that is definitely huge for our team, it’s huge for the program moving forward. It really puts us in a place we want to be.”

Editor-in-Chief

I'm Jaylan Harrington, Editor-in-Chief at Technician. I'm in NC State's class of 2022 majoring in communication. I've been at Technician since the fall of 2018. For more of my coverage, you can follow me @jaylan__1 on Twitter.