Winners, losers from wild weekend

NC State-ECU and UNC-App State were early candidates for game of the year, while Wake and Duke picked up wins

Special teams — and not only ECU kicker Owen Daffer, standing left, missing two key kicks — were the difference in NC State’s 21-20 win over the Pirates in Greenville. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

Week 1 of the college football season provided some crazy matchups, close calls and quite a few heartbreaks for North Carolina’s FBS teams. It also puts certain players and coaches on different sides of the scale in what will surely be a season of ups and downs across the state.


New Starting Quarterbacks

NC State’s Devin Leary and Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman got most of the publicity heading into the season. Leary’s dark house Heisman campaign took a hit in the Wolfpack’s razor’s-edge win at East Carolina, while Hartman is out with an undisclosed medical condition.

That opened the door for other quarterbacks around the state, and a few stormed through.

Perhaps none was more impressive than UNC redshirt freshman Drake Maye, whose five-touchdown performance in his first start was followed by 428 yards of total offense and another five touchdowns, four passing and one rushing, in the Tar Heels’ roller coaster 63-61 win at App State.

When it was announced just before the season that Hartman would miss significant time, many were skeptical about how Wake Forest would stack up without their star quarterback.

But freshman Mitch Griffis was impressive in his first start, connecting on 72% of his passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns in the Deacons’ 44-10 win over VMI.

Meanwhile at Duke, sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard had a solid debut of his own, throwing for 328 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-0 win over Temple. Leonard completed 80% of his passes, connecting with eight separate targets, and also rushed for 64 yards.

Mike Elko

Speaking of the Blue Devils, things couldn’t have gone much better in their coach’s debut.

Duke established its running game, spread the wealth through the air, forced two fumbles and kept the Owls completely off the board.

It’ll take some time to see if the Blue Devils can keep the momentum going throughout the season, but it was the perfect start for Elko in Durham.

NC State’s defense and special teams

The saving grace for the Wolfpack after the offense burned out after two quarters was the rock-solid defense and special teams play.

Two interceptions, seven passes deflected and a blocked punt-turned-touchdown highlighted the away-from-ball play, even if the offense couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities provided by both the defense and special teams.

NC State also did the little things— like making all three of its extra-point attempts.


ECU’s special teams

Speaking of that …

Everyone can agree that college kicking is not a science and, honestly, more like witchcraft — unexplainable and mystifying.

But one can’t help but feel bad for Pirates sophomore kicker Owen Daffer, who missed an extra point that would have tied the game with under three minutes to go and was then wide right on a 42-yard field goal for the win.

Add in a blocked punt that turned into an NC State touchdown and allowing some critical yards on punt returns and it was a nightmare game for the Pirates’ special teams at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

UNC and App State’s defenses

When the final score can be confused at first glance with a basketball game, it’s usually not a good day for the defense.

With 124 points and 1,216 yards of total offense between the Tar Heels and Mountaineers — the combined 62 points scored in the fourth quarter was one point shy of the FBS record for points in a quarter — the two teams’ defenses might as well just have slept in.

It’s a tough start for Gene Chizik, whose return to Chapel Hill was supposed to help turn around the Tar Heels’ defense. Things have the potential to get worse if he doesn’t get it figured out before conference play.

Things aren’t much better for App State head coach Shawn Clark, who has his hands full trying to patch the holes in his defense as the Mountaineers prepare for their trip to No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday.

NC State’s second-half offense

What was two competent quarters on the road against a game East Carolina defense quickly unraveled into close-your-eyes-and-pray territory for Wolfpack fans as the offense bottomed out in the final 30 minutes.

NC State had two first-and-goals lead to zero points — including a fumble on the 1-yard line — plus an interception in the closing minutes that gave the Pirates life.

The Wolfpack should have easier matchups over the next couple of weeks to try and iron out the kinks of the offense  — and they’ll need to do so with a Week 5 showdown with Clemson hovering on the horizon.

Will Healy

Not much can be said when you lose your home opener to William and Mary in a fourth quarter collapse.

The game was tied at halftime and the 49ers built a four-point lead after three quarters. Charlotte then fell to pieces, surrendering 21 straight points to lose in gut-punching fashion.

Healy — once seen as a rising star in the coaching ranks — has seen a steady decline in results since reaching a bowl game in 2019, his first season with the 49ers. Losing to an FCS opponent to fall to 0-2 doesn’t bode well for 2022, nor for Healy.