GREENVILLE — No. 13 NC State topped East Carolina 21-20 on Saturday after Pirates kicker Owen Daffer missed an extra point with 2:58 left and a 41-yard field goal with 5 seconds to go.
The Pirates (0-1) were in position to hand the Wolfpack a surprising loss when they got the ball back late down 21-20, not to mention offer Daffer a shot at redemption after he pulled the tying PAT wide left after Rahjai Harris’ short touchdown run.
Holton Ahlers’ keeper set Daffer up with a makeable field goal in the final seconds, but he missed this one wide right to stun a once-rowdy crowd and leave many fans putting their hands on their heads in disbelief.
The Wolfpack (1-0) celebrated the miss, with Shyheim Battle emphatically waving that the kick was no good while coach Dave Doeren pumped his right fist.
Still, the moment appeared to be more about relief than jubilation for an NC State team that had a long list of troubles in its latest bumpy trip to Greenville.
This time, at least, it all came in a win.
Devin Leary, the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown, but he had a costly interception with about 5 minutes left that set up East Carolina’s late touchdown drive. The Wolfpack also came up empty on six goal-line plays in the fourth quarter, first with a goal-line fumble by Jordan Houston and then with talented youngster Demie Sumo-Karngbaye getting stuffed four straight times to end another drive.
In fact, the difference in this game – Duffer’s misses aside – came on a blocked punt by Jasiah Provillon deep in ECU’s end that Sean Brown recovered in the end zone late in the first quarter.
Sumo-Karngbaye ran for 79 yards and a score to lead the Wolfpack’s ground game, offering a physical and thud-delivering presence.
Ahlers threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns to lead East Carolina, one going to C.J. Johnson and the other going to Shane Calhoun.
Everything has been set up for the Wolfpack to make a big leap in Doeren’s 10th season, from Leary’s presence for a team regarded as a top ACC contender to the program matching its highest-ever preseason ranking in The Associated Press poll. And NC State appeared to be gradually taking control by leading 21-7 by halftime while starting the second half with the ball – only to see this one very nearly turn into yet another frustration in a stadium where the Wolfpack had lost four of five meetings.
Meanwhile, Mike Houston’s first three years had been a heavy rebuild of the ECU program, which has long had a reputation for thriving in matchups against power conference schools at home backed by its rowdy crowd. The Pirates spent much of the afternoon grinding against a Wolfpack defense that ranked among the nation’s best last season, but they kept hanging around before making a late move toward a big upset. That could provide confidence going forward for the American Athletic Conference program — or it could be a damaging blow considering how this one ended.
The Wolfpack host Charleston Southern of the Championship Subdivision next Saturday. The Pirates get a visit from Old Dominion — which beat Virginia Tech in its Friday opener — on the same day.