Unlikely hero Thayer Thomas helps spark NC State’s 41-7 win

North Carolina State's Thayer Thomas (87) hauls in a pass against Georgia State's DeAndre Applin (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

NC State had plenty of heroes on offense during Saturday’s 41-7 win over Georgia State, but a former walk-on is fast becoming a household name.

For the second straight week, freshman receiver Thayer Thomas caught a touchdown pass. He and senior running back Reggie Gallaspy—a highly-recruited prospect coming out of high school—are the only Wolfpack players to score in both games of the 2018 season.

Not bad for a player who went into year hoping to find the end zone twice all season.

“I did my preseason goals with (wide receivers coach George) McDonald. I wrote down my goals to have at least two touchdowns. So I’m right there where I want to be, and if I just keep going off on the year and just keep building, then I’ll have a pretty good season.”

Thomas had an acrobatic one-handed touchdown grab in traffic for the Pack’s first score of the day. He also completed State’s longest pass of the young season, connecting with freshman running back Trent Pennix for a 56-yarder on a trick play. Last week, Thomas had State’s longest punt return of the season, going 40 yards.

“Thayer is playing at a high level,” coach Dave Doeren said. “I think sometimes guys get categorized, a walk-on category, and people think that they just overachieve and they are not that great of athletes. And he is an over-achiever, but he is a tremendous athlete. He’s got great quickness. He’s much faster than people give him credit for, I can tell you that. He’s got good ball skills. He works really hard. He’s tough. He had a good game today.”

Thomas’ touchdown wiped out an early Georgia State lead, after the Panthers took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards on six plays to score a touchdown.

Thomas took a five-yarder over the middle to even things up on the next drive, spurring a 41-0 Wolfpack run the rest of the way.

“The guy was holding my jersey in the back,” Thomas said. “So I couldn’t get both hands on it, but I was able to get one hand out there. Me, Steph (Louis) and Emeka (Emezie) all work on one-handed catches all summer, and probably every other day, we go out there and catch one-hands off the JUGS (pass machine). We started doing that so we can prepare for the moment where you have to use one hand and make the catch.”

Finley didn’t think twice about throwing the pass, despite the tight coverage on the inexperienced Thomas.

“Trustworthy,” said quarterback Ryan Finley, who completed 31 of 38 passes on the day for 370 yards and two scores. “That,’s just the word I think of when I think of Thayer. It was just an unbelievable grab there in the end zone with his left hand. He’s special, he’s worked for it and he’s earned the right to be on this stage. I’m really impressed with him in these first two weeks.”

Thomas finished with a team-high nine catches for 114 yards, finishing the reception all nine times he was targeted by Finley. Kelvin Harmon also had triple-digits in receiving yards, catching eight passes for 129 yards.

“He caught the ball well,” Doeren said of Harmon. “He ran crisp routes. He gave himself a little more space on the sideline, which last week he kind of ran out of room a couple of times.”

Harmon was expected to be one of the leaders of a deep receiving corps, but with week one hero Jakobi Meyers, who had 161 yards on 14 catches in the opener, sitting out the game with an ankle injury, it was on Thomas to step up.

“He took advantage of an opportunity,” Doeren said, “and did the most with his opportunity out there.”