NC State holds on to top Louisiana Tech

An interception in the end zone on the game's final play ended the Bulldogs' upset bid at Carter-Finley Stadium

North Carolina State's Jakeen Harris (6) intercepts a pass intended for Louisiana Tech's Tre Harris (83) as time runs out in an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

RALEIGH — NC State’s Jakeen Harris had an interception in the end zone as time expired to clinch a victory for the Wolfpack in a closer-than-expected nonconference game with Louisiana Tech.

One week after upsetting Clemson, the Pack struggled with the 2-3 Bulldogs before holding on to win, 34-27.

“It was tough,” coach Dave Doeren said. “Getting back up from that win the previous week was a monumental task for the guys, more than people probably understand. I’m not sure how much guys respect teams like that. I was worried about that.”

Running back Ricky Person admitted that the team may have overlooked Louisiana Tech.

“We were kind of lax coming into the game,” Person admitted. “Coach said to me, ‘You’ve got to pull the team behind you. Get the team going.”

It took a half for the offense to respond. State had four three-and-out drives on its first six possessions and, while the Wolfpack never trailed Louisiana Tech, found itself tied at 10 with 38 seconds left in the first half.

Devin Leary led the team 57 yards to set up a go-ahead field goal by Christopher Dunn to give State a three-point halftime lead.

“It was two different halves,” Doeren said. “In the first half, we struggled on offense, didn’t finish drives. I didn’t think we strained on the offensive line. The defense did enough to have the lead. In the second half, the offense played really well. They responded. I was impressed with how physical they were. But the defense didn’t play well.”

Louisiana Tech quarterback Austin Kendall took advantage of State’s downturn on defense, passing for more than 200 second-half yards on his way to 341 for the game on 26-of-43 passing. He threw two of his three touchdowns on the day in the fourth quarter as Tech battled back twice from down 14 to threaten to send State to overtime. Kendall also added 71 rushing yards to lead the Bulldogs.

State’s offense was able to keep Louisiana Tech at bay by scoring three touchdowns in a four-possession stretch. The running back tandem of Person and Zonovan Knight rushed for 90 and 85 yards, respectively, with each getting a second-half touchdown.

“We were falling off blocks, weren’t finishing, weren’t sustaining, weren’t giving our running backs a chance in the first half,” Doeren said. “Schematically, we didn’t do a whole lot different. The biggest part was just the way we strained. I told them at halftime, ‘I think we’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win, and that’s disappointing.’”

“The energy wasn’t there,” Person said of the first half. “As the game went on, we started to come together as a unit.”

However, it was the defense that was on the field at the end, desperately trying to make the lead hold up. After Kendall threw a touchdown to cut State’s lead in half with 4:36 remaining, the Wolfpack had their only three-and-out of the second half to give Tech the ball back with 2:56 to play.

Looking to tie the score and force overtime, Kendall completed five straight passes for 54 yards and ran for 12 yards on a fourth-and-10.

With time running down from the Wolfpack 22, Kendall passed into the end zone, and State’s Harris was able to jump in front of the receiver for the game-ending interception.

“We shouldn’t’ have been in that moment,” said Isaiah Moore, who led the Pack with 10 tackles, seven solo, and a sack. “We didn’t play well. … But we rep moments like that in practice all the time. So you just refer back to your training. It’s a stressful situation, but you put the stress on yourself.”

This time, State was able to survive the stressful ending.