Wolfpack upset bid falls short against No. 11 Miami

NC State bounces back from a dismal performance against UNC two weeks ago but can't hold on to pull off the upset in a 44-41 loss to the 11th-ranked Hurricanes

Miami wide receiver Mike Harley runs for a game-winning 54-yard touchdown as NC State's Cecil Powell (4) and Shyheim Battle (25) give chase. (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — For the better part 57 minutes Friday, NC State played well enough to beat a ranked opponent.

Then came the final three.

Miami used two long completions by quarterback D’Eriq King to drive 84 yards on five plays, then forced the game’s only turnover by intercepting a Bailey Hockman pass to come from behind for a 44-41 victory at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Bouncing back from a dismal performance against North Carolina two weeks earlier, the Wolfpack led the 11th-ranked Hurricanes most of the way — building as much as a 10-point advantage early in the fourth quarter before faltering down the stretch.

Hockman finished with a career-high 248 passing yards and two touchdowns, while Zonovan Knight ran for a touchdown, even after losing a shoe on the previous play, while also returning a kickoff for another score.

But State’s injury-riddled defense had no answer for King. Even after an intentional grounding penalty set Miami back to its own 8-yard line, he was still able to get his team into the end zone for the winning score, hitting receiver Mike Harley for a 54-yard touchdown with 2:43 remaining.

The loss marked State’s fourth straight to to a ranked opponent when scoring 40 or more points.

Three thoughts

1. Coach Dave Doeren and his staff used their team’s open week to its full advantage. Offensively, the Wolfpack looked like a different team than the one that couldn’t get out of its own way in Chapel Hill two Saturdays ago.

Coordinator Tim Beck reached into his bag of tricks on the opening drive by having receiver Thayer Thomas throw back to Hockman for a 31-yard touchdown and things kept rolling from there. Mixing the run and pass effectively, State scored on four of its first five first half possessions and on the first three times it touched the ball to start the second half before taking its foot off the accelerator after building a 41-31 lead early in the fourth quarter.

2. There was plenty of sentiment among Wolfpack fans heading into the game for freshman Ben Finley to play rather than Hockman, but the junior left-hander build on his strong finish at UNC by putting together the best effort of his State career. He finished the night 19 of 28 for 248 yards and touchdown passes to Devin Carter and Cary Angeline — both on third down plays. Hockman also became the first Wolfpack quarterback to catch a touchdown pass since Philip Rivers in Chapel Hill in 2000. Even his interception wasn’t entirely his fault — it came on a ball tipped up for grabs by his receiver.

3. Although State was able to get several players back from injury over the open week, its secondary remains a patchwork unit that was forced to mix and match players at unfamiliar positions or into key situations before they’re ready.

It showed against Miami’s King.

With starter Tanner Ingle (hamstring) joining Rakeim Ashford and Khalid Martin on the sideline, Doeren was forced to move nickel Tyler Baker-Williams to free safety. His replacement, true freshman Joshua Pierre-Louis, is the player that missed the tackle on the Hurricanes’ winning 54-yard touchdown pass from King to Harley.

Player of the game

D’Erik King, Miami quarterback — The transfer from Houston was on the money all night, taking advantage of NC State’s secondary to complete 31 of 41 passes for 430 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. King also ran the ball for 105 yards on 15 carries, including several key third-down gains to keep drives alive.

Number to know

100 — The number of yards, at least officially, of Knight’s kickoff return for a touchdown during the third quarter. Knight, who was listed as the Wolfpack’s No. 3 return man, actually caught the ball two yards deep in the end zone before taking it the length of the field to tie a school record held by many. Knight broke a tackle at about the 17-yard-line, spun completely around and then outran everyone to the end zone for the first 100-yard kickoff return since Keyon Lesane did it against Ball State last season.

They said it

“You’ve got to give their quarterback credit. We wanted to force him to throw the football to beat us. He had struggled on his deep balls throughout the season. Obviously he got better during the bye week, because he was on the money tonight. King played a helluva football game for them.”

— NC State coach Dave Doeren

Critical thinking

The outcome was a disappointing one, but the effort and the way State bounced back from its dismal performance at UNC against a nationally ranked opponent was encouraging heading into the final four games of the regular season, three of which are at home.

While the Wolfpack’s banged-up defense continues to have issues, especially in the secondary, Hockman showed that he can move the offense effectively without making major mistakes. With a remaining schedule that includes games against struggling Florida State, ACC bottom feeders Syracuse and Georgia Tech, and nonconference foe Liberty, State is still well-positioned for a strong finish if it can put this loss behind it and build on the many positives it had against the Hurricanes.