ORLANDO, Fla. (WTVD) -- NC State's quest for a 10-win season will have to wait another year.
The Wolfpack battled back from an early deficit but couldn't get over the hump, dropping a 28-19 decision to Kansas State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Thursday night.
The loss meant the Wolfpack finished 9-4, just shy of only the second 10-win campaign in school history, which happened in 2002. That team, led by quarterback Philip Rivers, went 11-3.
No. 19 NC State, playing without All-America linebacker Payton Wilson, who was present but opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft, struggled to contain the run early.
The Pack fell behind 7-0 on the first possession of the game when Wildcats quarterback Avery Johnson found DJ Giddens for a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth down.
Without Wilson patrolling the middle, Kansas State had little problem running the ball, piling up 258 yards on the ground. Giddens finished with 151 of them.
The Wolfpack never led in the game despite overcoming a 14-0 deficit and getting as close as two points.
Kansas State led 21-7 late in the second quarter and 21-10 at halftime, but N.C. State rallied in the third quarter, thanks in part to some trickery. Trent Pennix ran for a 60-yard touchdown on a fake punt with 1:50 left in the period to pull the Pack to within 21-19.
Quarterback Brennan Armstrong was sacked on the 2-point try that would have tied the game.
Johnson, a freshman making his first start after Will Howard entered the transfer portal, threw for 178 yards, rushed for 71, and directed a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that put the game away.
That drive concluded with Johnson's 8-yard touchdown pass to Jayce Brown with 2:48 remaining.
Jacob Parrish intercepted Armstrong on N.C. State's next play from scrimmage, dooming any faint hopes for a Wolfpack rally.
Armstrong rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown and threw for 164 yards in his final game for the Wolfpack.
Kansas State also finished the year 9-4.
The Associated Press contributed.