This was the biggest game Carter-Finley Stadium had seen in years, an eternity in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, instant-gratification world of college football. Under the lights, on national TV, a top-25 opponent, and a top-25 N.C. State team to boot, circumstances foreign to this vicinity since Chuck Amato was strutting the sidelines.
And after waiting years for this, N.C. State’s 39-25 win over Louisville may hold that distinction for less than a month.
The next time the Wolfpack returns to its home turf, there may be even more on the line. Assuming N.C. State can hold serve at Pittsburgh next Saturday, and Clemson continues to steamroll the ACC, the Wolfpack and Tigers will meet in these confines with the Atlantic Division title on the line.
And if all that plays out, it would be the biggest game Carter-Finley has seen in decades. If all the pieces fall into place, it might be N.C. State and Clemson and College GameDay. Dare to dream.
“We know that we’ve (beaten) two top teams in the ACC already,” Jaylen Samuels said. “But we are not done yet. We are on to the next opponent, which is Pitt. But it’s a great win for our program and our team. Hopefully the season will keep going as it is.”
Having seen N.C. State avoid one potential pitfall against Syracuse with relative aplomb, Wolfpack fans can actually approach the Pittsburgh game with some degree of confidence. This team has earned that much credit. There’s also a tricky trip to Notre Dame in the interim, but not one that counts in the ACC standings, where N.C. State is 3-0 for the first time since 2002 and 2-0 against division contenders, having dispatched Florida State and Louisville.
Despite being at home, the latter may be even more impressive than the former. Florida State was rusty after losing games to Hurricane Irma and breaking in a true freshman quarterback. The Seminoles were ripe to fall. Louisville brought last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, perhaps the single most dangerous and unpredictable player in college football, only for him to spend half the game fleeing N.C. State’s defensive line and the other half looking up at it from the ground.
Lamar Jackson made plays, as he does. N.C. State made more. The Wolfpack scored first and never trailed. And when Louisville threatened at the end, Shawn Boone got a hand on a Jackson pass, Germaine Pratt came down with the ball and kept going all the way to the end zone.
“Your best players have to be your best players,” Sidney Lowe was fond of saying during his time as N.C. State basketball coach, almost always after a disappointing loss. Dave Doeren could have said the same thing Thursday in triumph. The Wolfpack’s stars led the way, from Bradley Chubb’s sack of Jackson on the game’s second play, a harbinger of things to come, to the passes snared by a trio of playmaking wide receivers, not something often said of N.C. State’s wideouts in years past.
N.C. State is now 4-0 this season with Tuffy the wolf on their helmets, and his visage figures to still be at midfield when Clemson arrives. At this rate, the block “S” may be consigned to history with the persistent miscues that always seemed to trip up N.C. State in games like this. The last time the Wolfpack wore the Tuffy helmets, in 2014, N.C. State lost to Boston College. Even Tuffy lacked mojo then, but that’s how much has changed.
A single student eluded the security cordon and made it onto the field, and even the typically even-tempered Doeren couldn’t contain his excitement after opening his postgame with the usual platitudes: “Really proud of our players and our coaching staff and, uh, God! What a win!”
That it was, a big win on a big night. By the time N.C. State returns to Carter-Finley, it might be an even bigger night.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock