State uses hot start to dominate rival UNC 39-20

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Sunday, November 26, 2023
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- N.C. State and North Carolina renewed their football rivalry on Saturday night, one that has provided plenty of drama in recent years.

This one was a little different.

The Wolfpack rode a hot start, scoring on its first eight possessions -- all six in the first half and the first two of the second half to overwhelm the Tar Heels and cruise to a 39-20 win.

NC State's Brennan Armstrong passes against the Tar Heels on Saturday night.
Karl B DeBlaker

It's the third consecutive win in the series for Dave Doeren's Wolfpack, which improved to 9-3 overall, 6-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Brennan Armstrong threw three touchdown passes while North Carolina State's defense dominated North Carolina's Drake Maye-led offense.

Kevin "KC" Concepcion had two scoring catches in the latest strong performance for the Wolfpack's freshman receiver, part of an efficient offense that kept control of the ball while leaving Maye and the Tar Heels' high-powered attack on the sideline much of the night.

It was the Wolfpack's fifth consecutive win, an emphatic end to a game with two teams going in different directions. The Tar Heels fell to 8-4 overall, 4-4 ACC, having lost four of their last six games after a fast start to the year.

Maye is a high NFL draft prospect who has been among the nation's passing and total-offense leaders, while UNC's Omarion Hampton entered the game tied for the national rushing lead. Yet the Tar Heels started with little push to match N.C. State's aggressive "Senior Night" edge, with Maye not completing a pass until early in the second quarter and Hampton finding little space to run.

UNC quarterback Drake Maye ran for more than 100 yards but had three turnovers against the Wolfpack defense.
Karl B DeBlaker

By the time Maye directed a quick TD drive, the Wolfpack already led 23-0 in the second quarter.

The defensive performance included star linebacker Payton Wilson tallying 15 tackles and a diving interception of a deflected pass by Maye. He also sacked Maye on a scramble from behind with about 9 minutes left, leaving Maye down briefly and holding his left ankle.

Maye eventually got up and walked around on the sideline trying to test the ankle despite clearly being hobbled. Yet he returned for a final drive before throwing an interception with 1:53 left.

Maye ultimately threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns to go with running for 106 yards - 56 on one keeper - and another score. But Hampton ran for just 28 yards after entering this game as the first UNC player since 1970 to put together six straight 100-yard rushing performances.

UNC didn't force a punt until late in the third quarter.

Armstrong won again in his third start since getting another shot at the starting QB job, which came when MJ Morris - who replaced Armstrong after a rough start - opted not to play again to preserve his redshirt. The Virginia graduate transfer looked assertive in sticking multiple downfield throws, completing 22 of 31 passes for 334 yards.

With Armstrong in control, N.C. State finished with 504 total yards, held the ball for 40 minutes and scored on its first eight drives.

THE TAKEAWAY

UNC: There was no silver lining to this one, from a toothless start to another shaky performance from a defense that has been a problem through the Tar Heels' 2-4 finish. UNC has beaten only one ACC team after a 6-0 start that included a No. 10 ranking in the AP Top 25.

N.C. State: Dave Doeren's squad looked lost after a 24-3 loss at Duke on Oct. 14 that dropped the Wolfpack to 4-3. But to the credit of the 11th-year coach, N.C. State not only regrouped but thrived with wins against Clemson, Miami, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech before beating its rival for the third straight season. And that has the Wolfpack within reach of only the second 10-win season in program history, the other coming in 2002 (11-3).

UP NEXT

The rivals await their bowl destinations.

The Associated Press contributed.