RALEIGH, N.C. -- - Brennan Armstrong threw three touchdown passes while North Carolina State's defense dominated North Carolina's Drake Maye-led offense on the way to a 39-20 rivalry win on Saturday night.
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.
Then again, N.C. State (9-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) was in just as much control on the defensive end en route to a fifth straight win.
"It's been one heck of a five-week window," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said, adding: "Everything I asked these kids to do, they did."
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 (8-4, 4-4) 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.
By the time Maye directed a quick TD drive, the Wolfpack already led 23-0 in the second quarter.
"I think it's just momentum," Armstrong said. "My take on it was to hit them in the mouth quick and early, and we did that."
The defensive performance included star linebacker Payton Wilson tallying 15 tackles and a diving interception of a deflected pass by Maye.
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.
"It's on me, completely," UNC coach Mack Brown said. "You can't play as bad as we did in the first half without the head coach doing a poor job. And I had our team poorly prepared, obviously."
UNC: There was no silver lining to this one, from a toothless start to another shaky performance from a defense that 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: 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).
Wilson's night included a sack of Maye from behind as the quarterback scrambled to his right with about 9 minutes left, leavingMaye 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.
Brown said he intended to keep Maye out but he wanted to go back in.
"I'm thinking just never quit," Maye said. "I think that's a sign of defeat. No matter how I'm feeling, a lot of people are going through tougher things than a lower-leg thing. So I wanted to get back out with the guys and not leave them out there."
The rivals await their bowl destinations.
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