RALEIGH — On a day when the eyes of Football America were on NC State, a better case for looking elsewhere couldn’t have been made.
The national champion Clemson Tigers were in town, with the Atlantic Division and a potential College Football Playoff berth on the line for both teams. Attracted by the marquee match-up, ABC was on hand to televise the game, and ESPN brought the College Gameday radio team and the Heisman House to add to the pregame atmosphere.
Big-time college football arrived at Carter-Finley Stadium with a vengeance, and State couldn’t have possibly looked smaller potatoes.
Don’t blame the team. The players gave the champs everything they could have wanted, battling until the end. ABC/ESPN got everything they could have wanted as well, with big plays, a near upset and a game that wasn’t decided until the very last play.
The Wolfpack players showed they were more than ready for the spotlight. Unfortunately for NC State University and the city of Raleigh, they were the only ones that did their part.
On a day when a Washington State student jumped onto the field, ran into the end zone as a touchdown was being scored and dropped his pants for an on-camera moon, NC State’s fans managed to turn in the most shamefully embarrassing performance of the afternoon.
As the officiating crew left the field, State fans pelted them with debris. Online video shows fans making crude hand gestures to the referees as they leave, while debris flies down at them. A fan in white hurls a water bottle that appears to hit a state trooper attempting to protect the officials.
— billy weaver (@billyweaver14) November 4, 2017
That’s all on one side of the tunnel. On the other side, a fan in a grey shirt was spitting on people passing beneath, at one point getting a running start to increase his range.
The video is there for all to see. Hopefully the university will try to identify any students pictured and take action against them. And maybe the police could take a look at the film as well.
What did the referees do to earn such abusive treatment? They called an illegal blocking penalty that wiped out a seven-yard run for the game’s go-ahead touchdown.
No, never mind. That’s not right. That was the call they made against Clemson, late in the third quarter.
What the referees did was call a pass interference penalty on a third-down stop that allowed the other team to score the go-ahead touchdown two plays later.
No, wait. That’s not right either. That call went against Clemson too, right before Jaylen Samuels scored NC State’s second touchdown.
What the referees did was call an illegal shift on NC State that wiped out a long pass play on the Wolfpack’s last-minute drive.
Fans erupted with anger after the call, and social media erupted with conspiracy theories. Luckily, the alleged illegal shifter — wide receiver Jakobi Meyers — was made available to the media after the game.
Here’s his reaction to the penalty debacle: “I think it’s because I stepped off the ball and J-Sam (Samuel) stepped on, and we didn’t set for a count. I’m assuming that’s what it was.”
In other words, the call was right.
Was it a ticky-tack call? Something that could have been ignored, given the point in the game? Well, Meyers was the one that caught the ball, and he appeared to get a step on the man covering him, who was caught flat-footed. The man covering Samuels had even more of a struggle, appearing to stumble when the ball was hiked and Samuels exploded off the line.
Regardless of whether it was a legit call or a blown one, the fan reaction was unacceptable. It’s the type of thing a team’s coach should come out against, emphasizing sportsmanship and a safe positive environment for all of his fans.
Unfortunately, NC State coach Dave Doeren chose not to do that. Perhaps he wasn’t aware that it happened. Although, if he was able to find out about a sideline laptop that Clemson was using during the game, it’s hard to believe that a near riot during postgame slipped his attention.
The bottom line is that Doeren should have come out with a “that’s not how we do things” statement, if not in his press conference, then on social media afterward, instead of praising the crowd’s “passion” in light of the behavior of some fans.
Thank You Wolfpack Nation for your passion and crowd support tonight! You were incredible! These Players and Coaches Applaud You!!!
— Dave Doeren (@StateCoachD) November 5, 2017
Two days later, in his Monday press conference, Doeren again opened by praising the fans and the atmosphere in the stadium on Saturday. NC State campus police had announced earlier in the day that they were looking for the fans responsible for throwing items, but Doeren said he was unaware of the situation.
“I didn’t know they were doing that,” he said. “I’ve been watching Boston College (this week’s opponent) film and didn’t know anything about it.”
Now, the majority of the 56,700 Wolfpack fans that packed Carter-Finley were passionate and loud. They were up for the arrival of big-time football and did their part. It may not be fair, but a fanbase will be judged by the actions of its drunkest, dumbest few. Most Panther fans didn’t punch someone in opposing colors at a game this season, but they all get painted by the brush of the clown who did. I also received messages on Twitter from State fans who were “physically assaulted” at UNC football games.
Shawn Krest is a UNC graduate. I'd love for him to write about the UNC student who physically assaulted me outside Kenan.
— susan (@susanfetzvick) November 5, 2017
Make no mistake — thuggery has no alma mater. It also has no place in our stadiums, arenas or parking lots.
Big-time football is a lot of fun. It also carries a heavy responsibility. There’s a difference between “great atmosphere” and criminal behavior.
Doeren was upset about the officiating after the game. He said so and may get fined for it. He was also upset about Clemson’s sideline laptop. He should have been upset about the few dozen of his fans that will be one of the lasting images from the time he brought big-time football to Raleigh. And he should have said something.
It’s not too late to break the deafening silence.