RALEIGH – It had the makings of a perfect storm.
Everything that could have gone wrong for N.C. State against Georgia Southern almost did.
The Wolfpack entered the fourth quarter trailing by 10 points, but two late touchdown passes from Jacoby Brissett salvaged a 24-23 win for N.C. State on Saturday in front of 54,273 fans at Carter-Finley Stadium.
With the Wolfpack staring at its ninth straight loss, Brissett’s 35-yard pass to Matt Dayes gave N.C. State (1-0) its first and only lead of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the contest.
Brissett, who was making his debut in a Wolfpack uniform after transferring from Florida two years ago, threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
“I wanted to win” Brissett said. “I knew I had to calm myself down so everybody else would stay calm. I remember going out in that huddle and everyone telling me they had my back. That was just enough for me.”
Georgia Southern (0-1), who is in its first year of Football Bowl Subdivision play, entered the game looking for its second straight upset of a superior opponet. The Eagles took down Florida last season on the road and were in prime position to make a run at N.C. State.
The Eagles executed their option offense to near perfection in the first half behind the legs of running back Matt Breida and quarterback Kevin Ellison. The duo combined for two touchdowns, while N.C. State managed just a field goal.
Ellison accounted for 300 yards of his teams 438 yards, but N.C. State made adjustments.
“Option football is what it is. It’s a pain in the butt,” N.C. Stats coach Dave Doeren said. “We were a shell of ourselves, in my opinion, in the first half, which is really disappointing. (The team) heard me at halftime, and they responded.”
Georgia Southern finished the game with 246 rushing yards, but it was the third quarter that proved to be the difference. The Wolfpack limited the Eagles to just 20 yards on the ground in the third quarter, which allowed the offense to go to work.
Brissett led an eight-play 80-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Bra'lon Cherry to put N.C. State back in the game. Georgia Southern added a field goal to extend its lead and was about to score again, before a costly fumble at the goal line. Wolfpack defensive tackle Monty Nelson recovered the loose ball at the 1-yard line which set up Brissett’s final two scoring drives.
“In the first half, we traded field goals for their touchdowns, and in the second half we flipped that,” Doeren said. “That was the turning point in the game.”
Freshman Bo Hines led the Wolfpack with eight catches for 85 yards, but it was Cherry who hauled in two second half touchdown passes. Shadrach Thornton had a team-high 73 yards rushing.
“What we did in the first half is pretty disappointing, but that’s the beauty of football is that it’s a four quarter game. We just kept playing,” Doeren said.
Andrew Ivins can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org