RALEIGH – Richmond was ready.
Less than a minute from arguably the highest profile regular-season win in school history, all the Spiders had to do was stop the Wolfpack once more.
Up until that point, Richmond had done everything right, and N.C. State did almost everything wrong.
N.C. State found a way to come through, driving down the field in the final minute to set up a game-winning 48-yard field goal by kicker Niklas Sade.
The team swarmed Sade, who had hit a game-tying field goal against Miami and a game-winning kick against Maryland last year, near midfield after his field goal easily made it through the uprights.
Once the final Hail Mary was knocked down, N.C. State survived and first-year coach Dave Doeren remained unbeaten at home with a 23-21 victory.
“I can’t explain it,” said Sade, whose kick Saturday was two yards shorter than his career-long. “There’s so much joy to see all your teammates jumping around. It’s just the greatest feeling.”
N.C. State (2-0) nearly fell victim to its own poor play and poor decisions. The Wolfpack turned over the ball four times, including Pete Thomas’ interception with just more than three minutes to play, and committed 10 penalties.
The choices made by Doeren nearly cost the Wolfpack its first home loss to Richmond in 14 games.
Doeren decided to kick an extra point despite being down by two in the third quarter, and then he called for a running play on the final drive with no timeouts.
The running play proved to be insignificant as N.C. State already was in field goal range – even if it was a long kick. Sade bailed his coach out on the other choice.
“We made it hard on ourselves, there’s no doubt,” Doeren said.
Richmond (1-1), which won the FCS national championship in 2008, took an early lead behind quarterback Michael Strauss.
On the few occasions when the Spiders hurt themselves, the Wolfpack couldn’t fully capitalize.
Down by six late in the third quarter, N.C. State recovered two fumbles in a one-minute span, both inside the Richmond 20-yard line.
The Wolfpack scored on the first, but after the second turnover, freshman quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who scored twice in the game, fumbled the ball back to the Spiders.
“I knew there’d be some plays we had to bounce back from,” Doeren said. “Early on, the way we were moving it and turning it over, I knew it was going to be a fight. I was happy to see us see adversity.”
The Wolfpack nearly didn’t have that chance.
Quarterback Pete Thomas, who converted five times with his legs on third or fourth down, forced a deep pass with less than four minutes to play and N.C. State down by one.
Richmond Ayo Ogunniyi picked off the pass, putting N.C. State’s hopes on the shoulders of its defense.
Thomas wanted another chance, and he was confident he was going to have one.
“Fortunately, the defense gave that to us,” Thomas said, “... We knew we were going to drive down the field and score a touchdown or give it to our great kicker.”
After forcing a three-and-out, Thomas drove the Wolfpack 48 yards, just barely into Sade’s range.
After running for first downs for much of the game, Thomas was able to buy time with his legs on the final drive and give Sade, who said he is 100-percent confident in his leg from within 50 yards, the chance to win it with a kick.
“The first thing I said to the team was, 'You found a way to win.’” Doeren said. “... We gave our kicker a chance to win it, and he did.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org