NC State outscores Wake Forest in wild opener for Pack

The Wolfpack made a last-second starting quarterback announcement and it paid off, as Bailey Hockman and the offense topped the Deacons

Coach Dave Doeren and his NC State football team are a 15 1/2 point favorite at Syracuse (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

NC State won a shootout over Wake Forest in the season opener for the Wolfpack, 45-42 at a nearly empty Carter-Finley Stadium.

The general public were not allowed in the game, and a small group of family members made up the entire crowd. State provided Wake Forest with about 100 tickets for players’ families.

State went up early 14-0 and led Wake 21-7 early in the second quarter before the Demon Deacons stormed back to tie the score just before halftime.

The Pack went up by 14 again early in the second half, but again Wake rallied, scoring two touchdowns in a five and a half minute stretch. Wake took its only lead of the game with just over nine minutes remaining, when Kenneth Walker III scored his third rushing touchdown of the game.

State responded with a drive on the ground, running the ball on seven of its eight plays. Three different players carried the ball for the Pack, with Ricky Person plunging in from three yards out to give State the game’s final score.

It was State’s first win over Wake since 2016, snapping a three-game losing streak to the Deacs.

Three thoughts

1. Bailey Hockman was the surprise starter at quarterback for the Wolfpack. Coach Dave Doeren said multiple times during the preseason that Devin Leary would be his starting quarterback, but the change was announced less than an hour before kickoff. Leary was available and went through warmups, but, according to the ACC Network’s game broadcast, he missed nearly three weeks of camp when he had to be quarantined, and Doeren felt Hockman’s significant edge in practice time necessitated the move. It paid off, as Hockman completed his first 12 passes of the game. By the time he threw an incompletion, it was midway through the second quarter and the Pack had already put up 21 points. Hockman finished 17 of 24 with 193 yards and a touchdown.

2. Just when it seemed like Hockman was wrapping up the starting job, building a 14-point lead in the third quarter, disaster struck. On the second play of a drive that started at State’s own 34, he threw a pass that was picked off by Wake defensive back Ja’Sir Taylor, who took the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. State immediately went into a shell on offense. The Wolfpack ran the ball on 14 of their remaining 17 offensive plays before the kneel downs to kill the clock at the end. State rushed for 270 yards on the game.

3. Wake had some curious playcalling on its final two drives as it tried to match State’s go-ahead score. On third-and-7 at its own 38, the Deacs called a quarterback draw, which gained just two yards. Wake went for it on fourth-and-5, and quarterback Sam Hartman threw incomplete. Wake then used just one of its three timeouts as State ran the ball three times on the next possession and got the ball back with 2:25 left. State’s defense stepped up on the next drive, sacking Hartman twice and pressuring him as the sophomore tried unsuccessfully to get the ball downfield. State’s defense finished with six sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

Number to Know

25 years — How long its been since State scored as many as 45 points against Wake Forest.

They Said It

“You know, I’m going to enjoy the win tonight. You guys can talk about that one.”

— NC State coach Dave Doeren on who would be the starting quarterback going forward

Player of the Game

Ricky Person, Wolfpack running back — Person was State’s leading rusher, gaining 99 yards on 14 carries and scoring two touchdowns. He also threw a jump pass touchdown to give State the lead after halftime.

Critical thinking

It’s no surprise that a 45-42 shootout would be no place for punters. Wake Forest redshirt freshman punter Ivan Mora’s second punt of the game came just after halftime, and, with NC State applying modest pressure, he shanked the ball out of bounds for a five-yard punt. State took over five yards from midfield and five plays later scored the go-ahead touchdown.