After epic win, Wolfpack focus on larger goals

NC State doesn’t want to let the satisfaction from its win over Clemson to linger and negatively impact the rest of its season

NC State's Cory Durden, center, celebrates his first-half sack with teammates Khalid Martin, right, and Shyheim Battle, left, during the Wolfpack's win over Clemson last Saturday in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The victory was dramatic. The celebration was epic.

But when it comes to the ramifications of NC State’s field-storming 27-21 double overtime win against No. 9 Clemson at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, they won’t be known until much later in the season.

“Our goal wasn’t to beat Clemson. Our goal was to win every game we play this year and to be in contention to win this league,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Monday at his regular weekly media conference. “All we’ve done is move closer to the goal. That’s it.”

There were some residual rewards to come out of the biggest win of Doeren’s nine-season tenure with the Wolfpack.

By far the most satisfying was that it ended a sometimes painful eight-game losing streak to the perennial ACC champion Tigers dating back to 2011, an accomplishment that prompted the normally understated Doeren to gush that “the curse is broken … finally.”

It also catapulted State into the national rankings for the first time this season at No. 23 while establishing it as an early frontrunner along with No. 24 Wake Forest for its first Atlantic Division title.

For it to maintain that status and earn a shot at playing for the school’s first conference championship since 1979 in Charlotte this December, it will have to avoid the kind of inconsistency that has become something of a Wolfpack trademark.

The most glaring example of that came in 2012 when an upset of third-ranked Florida State — State’s most recent victory against a top-10 opponent before Saturday — was offset by a head-scratching homecoming loss to a Virginia team that won only four games that season.

It was a result that proved to be the beginning of the end to then-coach Tom O’Brien’s tenure with the Wolfpack. He was fired despite finishing the season with a winning record and remains a lesson from which the current team can learn.

“We’ve all seen enough football to know that there’s a lot of teams out there that don’t handle winning very well,” Doeren said. “We’re not going to be one of them.”

The first test of that confidence will come Saturday evening when Louisiana Tech comes to Carter-Finley Stadium in a rematch of Doeren’s Wolfpack debut in 2013.

It’s a nonconference matchup that has the potential to become a trap game if State has problems shaking off the hangover from last week’s emotional victory and the even more emotional celebration it sparked.

Although the Bulldogs of former East Carolina coach Skip Holtz are a non-Power 5 opponent with a pedestrian 2-2 record this season, they’re a significant step up in competition from earlier cupcakes South Florida and Furman.

They led common opponent Mississippi State by 20 points in the fourth quarter in their season opener before suffering a 35-34 loss. Their other loss came on the final play of a 39-37 setback to SMU.

“They really should be 4-0,” Doeren said. “It’s a team that has a lot of talent. If you score 35 points a game, you’re going to win a lot of games. … They gave Mississippi State a lot of fits. They play hard.”

Playing hard, however, might not be enough against a Wolfpack team that showed some uncharacteristic resilience by finally getting over the Clemson hump last Saturday.

State had several opportunities to fall victim to a familiar fate despite dominating the game statistically by controlling the ball for nearly 42 of the 60 minutes of timed play, limiting the Tigers to 214 total yards and allowing them to convert only 2 of 12 third- and fourth-down opportunities.

But as Doeren and several of his players said afterward, the Wolfpack never flinched, even after normally reliable kicker Christopher Dunn shanked a potential game-winning 39-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and Clemson struck for a go-ahead touchdown on the first series of overtime.

“You’ve just got to believe. I was very proud of us for keeping our maturity throughout the game,” said wide receiver Devin Carter, whose difficult catch of a Devin Leary pass between two defenders for a 22-yard touchdown in the second overtime provided the winning points.

“I think you saw a team that’s just not going to quit, no matter what happens,” added linebacker Isaiah Moore, the team’s leading tackler against the Tigers. “I think you saw a team that’s just not going to quit, no matter what happens.”

It’s an attitude Doeren is expecting his team to maintain regardless of the opponent.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “As great as that (Clemson) win was, and it was special and can definitely be something we have for the rest of our lives, the next game is the one that you have to worry the most about. This is the next game. I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t come out and play very good football.”