RALEIGH — Last week, Nyheim Hines wasn’t able to finish NC State’s loss to Wake Forest. On Saturday, he finished off the Tar Heels.
Hines was hit hard on a punt return in the second half of the game in Winston-Salem, which put him in the team’s concussion protocol.
There was never any doubt in his mind that he would play in the season-ending rivalry game, however.
“He told me on Sunday, ‘They’re going to have to amputate parts of my body for me not to play against Carolina.’” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said after Hines rushed for two touchdowns to lead a 33-21 win over the Tar Heels. Hines’ 196 yards on the ground were the most ever by a Wolfpack runner against North Carolina.
“Growing up here, it’s just really important for me to play in this game,” Hines said. “I knew I would not miss this game for anything. I’d basically have to break an arm or a leg not to play.”
Instead, with both offenses stagnating in the third quarter, Hines was able to break the Tar Heels’ spirit.
Visiting North Carolina was clinging to a 14-12 lead as both teams traded empty possessions through the third quarter. The two teams exchanged five punts and a missed field goal as neither seemed willing to seize the game.
That’s when Hines took control. Hines took a handoff and burst through a gaping hole on the right side of the line. A UNC linebacker missed and he ran, untouched, 54 yards to give the Wolfpack their first lead of the game.
“When I get past first level and see the linebackers can’t touch me, I know,” Hines said. “Any time you get to the second level untouched, it’s a credit to the line.”
He used the video board in the end zone to make sure no Carolina defenders had an angle on him as he sped to the end zone. “I’m a track guy,” he said. “So I know when you turn your head, you lose speed.”
“We couldn’t really get a drive moving,” wide receiver Jakobi Meyers said. “When he finally broke loose, it was like, ‘Finally!’ Everybody could breathe a little bit, although we knew we weren’t done.”
Indeed, after struggling much of the day, State’s offense was just getting started.
“It’s kind of like a shark mentality,” Hines said. “I smelled blood in the water. We all did. The offensive line said we were about to go get another one.”
After a UNC three-and-out to start the fourth quarter, Hines again got the ball to start a Wolfpack drive. Again, he finished running when he reached the end zone, 48 yards later.
“That man is an athlete, right there,” Meyers said. “People say he’s a track star that plays football, but he’s a football player that happens to run track. He’s a load. I’ve never seen a 5-foot-9 guy run like that.”
Hines topped 1,000 yards on the season, the second straight year an NC State back has reached quadruple digits.
Doeren credited Hines’ time in the concussion protocol for his burst of game-breaking speed.
“For his legs, it was a good thing,” Doeren said. “He didn’t practice. He was just out there watching. So he got fresh just standing around.”
It also was a tough waiting game for Hines, who desperately wanted to play.
“It’s a grind,” he said. “It was a lot of testing. A lot of waking up early and going to treatment. A lot of sleeping. This is the most I’ve slept since I was a kid.”
On Friday, he finally got cleared to do some activity.
“I ran,” he said. “I did some up-downs. (Running backs) Coach Kitch (Des Kitchings) was kind of mad, because I did a front flip and stuck the landing, like I was a gymnast. It was on the (practice) film, and he definitely let me hear about it.”
Finally able to play football on Saturday, Hines helped flip the momentum and give the Wolfpack its second straight win over Carolina and third in four years.
“I came here, because I watched NC State play in this game, in this rivalry,” he said. “It’s just really important to me.”