Wolfpack builds for future by trouncing Vanderbilt in Independence Bowl

Wolfpack exacts revenge over Commodores for second bowl win under Doeren, first SEC win in 17 years

The North State Journal—The North State Journal
North Carolina State tight end Jaylen Samuels (1) runs for a touchdown during the game against William & Mary on Thursday

The last time Dave Doeren was on the sidelines for a bowl game against Vanderbilt, he watched the Commodores run over NC State for a 38-24 win. Jaylen Samuels made sure Doeren didn’t have to deal with history repeating itself in a 41-17 Independence Bowl victory.NC State cruised to a win against Vandy, keyed by Samuels’ trio of receiving touchdowns. NC State had a trying 2016 season, but the coaching staff sees the bowl game, preceded by a rivalry win over North Carolina, as a culmination of sorts.”We’ve been building this for a while,” Doeren explained. “We’re about to hit the pinnacle where all these guys are back for another year.”One of those players, of course, is Samuels.The do-it-all tight end/fullback/receiver hadn’t caught a touchdown pass since Oct. 1 against Wake Forest, his fourth of the season. He caught three Monday.Samuels had just three games with more than five receptions this season, as well as more than 100 receiving yards in only one game this season. He finished with six receptions for 104 yards against Vandy, marking a season-high for receiving yards.After a regular season with down numbers, Samuels was prepared for a big night.”I’ve been feeling all week like I was ready to break out,” Samuels said. “Like we as a team were ready to break out. We all came out and did what we were supposed to do.”NC State’s offense was firing on all cylinders at its peak, but it took a while to get going. Senior Matt Dayes stumbled out the gate, coughing up just his third fumble of the season on the opening drive.The ensuing possession wasn’t much more effective, lasting just five plays after the defense held Vandy to a three-and-out. After a field goal by the Commodores, Dayes appeared to fumble near the goal line, but was deemed down. State went for it on fourth down, but was denied to close out the first quarter.Then the defense turned the tide.Freshman Trae Meadows tallied his first career interception at the Vanderbilt 41, followed by Samuels scoring from nine yards out. With 1:24 remaining in the half, Samuels scored his second TD on a 55-yard pass from Ryan Finley, who finished 19-of-30 for 235 passing yards.After a scoreless first quarter, the Pack responded with 28 straight points before Vandy would score again late in the third. Doeren has been accused of taking his foot off the gas pedal in the past, but he didn’t blink in Shreveport.”We were physical and didn’t flinch,” Doeren said. “Some things went the other way and we responded. That’s how we’ve been.”Despite finishing with six losses — five coming in a six-game stretch — NC State went out on a high note with wins over UNC and Vanderbilt. In those two games, Samuels accounted for five total scores (three receiving, one rushing and one passing), clearly carving out his role as the offensive centerpiece next year.Along with Samuels, both Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines — who also hit pay dirt Monday — will be back in the fold. Finley, who has two years of eligibility remaining, will likely be holding the reins for the Pack’s offense again.While there’s the possibility of players declaring for the NFL draft during the offseason (cornerback Josh Jones announced he would leave shortly after the bowl game), next year is shaping up to be Doeren’s most talented team in his fifth season. After being battle tested this fall, excitement is building for the coming season.”The guys learned the hard way and sometimes you have to go through that,” Doeren said. “We had the highest of highs and lowest of lows. A lot of stuff happens in 12-week season that nobody knows about. … We have tremendous momentum heading into the offseason.”