NC comes out ahead in bowl games

North Carolina’s schools went 4-1 in the postseason, with the only blemish being NC State’s loss to Texas A&M

Duke players celebrate their win over Temple in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 27 in Shreveport, La. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo)

The college football bowl season, with the exception of the four-team playoff that ended with Clemson’s national championship victory Monday, was largely defined by who didn’t play rather than who did.

It’s a phenomenon that affected several North Carolina teams in their postseason games.

While Wake Forest overcame the absence of All-American wide receiver/kick returner Greg Dortch to beat Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl, NC State struggled in the Gator Bowl against Texas A&M without first-team All-ACC performer Kelvin Harmon on offense and leading tackler Germain Pratt.

Among those stars that did answer the bell, no one helped themselves more than Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, whose record-setting performance against Temple in the Independence Bowl potentially catapulted him into the first round of the NFL draft.

Appalachian State, without coach Scott Satterfield, and NC A&T, with a group of seniors securing their second straight HBCU national title, also fashioned successful conclusions to their 2018 seasons with bowl victories.

Here’s the complete rundown of the state’s 4-1 postseason performance.

Gator Bowl
Texas A&M 53, NC State 13

The Wolfpack’s goal of reaching double-digit victories for just the second time in school history came crashing down with a disastrous second half in which it was outscored 31-0 by the Aggies.

It’s doubtful that either Harmon or Pratt would have made enough of a difference in stopping an A&M juggernaut that rolled up 401 yards on the ground and forced State (9-4) to go 0 for 13 on third-down conversions.

Trayveon Williams ran for 236 yards and three touchdowns to earn game MVP honors for the Aggies while on the other side of the ball, the Wolfpack’s highest profile offensive star — quarterback Ryan Finley — completed 19 of 32 passes for just 139 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked twice before coach Dave Doeren mercifully pulled him early in the fourth quarter.

Independence Bowl
Duke 56, Temple 27

The Blue Devils (8-5) bounced back from a regular season-ending rout at the hands of Wake Forest and an early two-touchdown deficit to earn their third bowl win in the last four years. The victory also extended coach David Cutcliffe’s personal record in the Shreveport, La.-based bowl to a perfect 4-0.

Jones, a junior who announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft shortly after the game, set Independence Bowl records by throwing for 423 yards and five touchdowns. Wide receiver T.J. Rahming caught 12 of those passes for 240 yards and two scores to earn a spot on The Associated Press’ All-Bowl team.

Temple, playing under an interim coach after Geoff Collins left for Georgia Tech, used an early pick-six to build a 27-14 lead in the second quarter. Duke cut the gap to 27-21 when Jones hit Rahming for a 22-yard touchdown. The score touched off a run of 42 unanswered points that helped the Blue Devils pull away for the victory.

Birmingham Bowl
Wake Forest 37, Memphis 34

Like Duke, the Deacons (7-6) had to dig themselves out of an early hole to finish their season on a high note. Coach Dave Clawson’s team fell behind 28-10, giving up touchdowns on a 97-yard kickoff return and an interception, before roaring from behind on the passing and running of backup quarterback Jamie Newman.

Making only his fourth career start, Newman ran for three touchdowns and passed for 328 yards and another score to earn game MVP honors. His 1-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds left capped a clutch 75-yard drive and gave Wake what turned out to be its winning margin.

The Deacons’ celebration had to wait, however, until Memphis — playing without star running back and projected first round NFL pick Darrell Henderson — missed a 43-yard field goal as time expired.

Senior receiver Alex Bachman helped make up for Dortch’s absence by catching seven passes for 171 yards, including two on the final drive to set up the decisive touchdown.

New Orleans Bowl
Appalachian State 45, Middle Tennessee 13

Interim coach Mark Ivey, filling in after Satterfield left to take the job at Louisville, pulled out all the stops in leading the Mountaineers to their fourth straight bowl victory since moving up to the FBS level.

The Sun Belt Conference champions got two touchdown passes on trick plays from wide receiver Malik Williams, including one to quarterback Zac Thomas, and attempted an onside kick in the first half on the way to their 11th win of the season.

Thomas also threw for three touchdowns and Camerun Peoples, a freshman playing in only his third game this season thanks to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, added a 63-yard scoring run in App State’s final game before newly hired coach Eliah Drinkwitz takes over the program.

Celebration Bowl
NC A&T 24, Alcorn State 22

The Aggies (10-2) won their third HBCU title in the last four years and second straight despite a balky offensive performance that saw them gain just 38 rushing yards on 31 carries while allowing Alcorn State to roll up 328 yards on the ground against their No. 2-ranked defense.

Quarterback Lamar Raynard threw for 292 yards and two first-half touchdowns in the game that matched champions from the Mid-East and Southwest athletic conferences. Although A&T never trailed, it took a 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior Malik Wilson late in the third quarter for the Aggies to secure their victory.

For all its offensive struggles, A&T came through when it needed it most, holding the ball for the final 5:55 to prevent Alcorn from getting one final opportunity to pull the game out.

The victory put a successful ending to Sam Washington’s first season as coach. It also put an exclamation point on the careers of 21 seniors, who combined to go 41-7 over their four seasons with the Aggies.