NC State scored 17 points in an 8:04 span ranging from the end of the second quarter to the beginning of the third, opening up a 27-7 lead over the visiting Virginia football program. The Cavaliers could not recover from the outburst and ultimately lost, 35-21, Saturday afternoon to a Wolfpack squad that was more consistent on both sides of the ball.
The loss snaps UVA’s two-game win streak and drops the Hoos to 3-2 overall, 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Playing NC State for the first time in six seasons, the Cavaliers started in strong fashion and held a 7-3 lead after one quarter of play thanks to a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bryce Perkins to wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. From there, the home team scored 24 straight points to take command.
Senior quarterback Ryan Finley threw touchdown passes to wide receiver Emeka Emezie and tight end Cary Angeline and placekicker Christopher Dunn booted through a 43-yard field goal as time expired to give the Wolfpack a 20-7 halftime lead. After holding a struggling Virginia offense to a 3-and-out to start second-half play, NC State put another touchdown on the board with a 10-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard rushing score from running back Reggie Gallaspy. Suddenly, the visitors were down 20.
This Virginia team has shown resilience all season long. Things were no different in Raleigh. Responding to Gallaspy’s touchdown, the Cavalier offense put together a 9-play, 82-yard scoring drive that ended with Perkins hitting Zaccheaus in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass. After a defensive stand, the Cavalier offense was on the march again, driving all the way to the Wolfpack 21. Virginia’s attempt to slice into the 13-point deficit stalled, though, when Perkins’ pass to true freshman receiver Tavares Kelly on 4th-and-4 sailed out of bounds.
NC State took advantage of Virginia’s failed red zone opportunity, driving 79 yards in eight plays and coming away with a Finley 16-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Harmon. A successful 2-point conversion boosted the Wolfpack lead to 35-14, but the visitors weren’t done fighting.
Running back Jordan Ellis, who was bottled up for most of the game, scored from seven yards out with 3:08 remaining. A Hunter Pearson extra point closed the Hoos to within 14, and after a nifty onside kick was recovered by junior wide receiver Hasise Dubois, Virginia still had life. NC State sealed the win, however, when Dexter Wright intercepted Perkins’ deflected pass inside the Wolfpack 5.
Finley showed why he is one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks, completing 22-of-32 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He was instrumental in helping NC State convert 8-of-13 opportunities on third down, keeping a thin Cavalier defense on the field for 32:14. The Wolfpack offense took advantage of opportunities in the red zone, scoring on all five appearances – four touchdowns and one field goal.
Making matters worse for the Cavalier defense was NC State’s ability to run the football. The Wolfpack, who entered this contest ranked No. 117 in the nation in rush offense (107.7 yards per game), racked up 176 yards rushing on 39 attempts against the Hoos. Freshman Ricky Person Jr. led the way with 14 carries for 108 yards.
NC State totaled 433 yards of offense against a Cavalier defense that was allowing 297.5 yards of offense per contest coming in. This was UVA’s first game without star inside linebacker Jordan Mack, who is expected to miss five more weeks. The Cavaliers also lost speedy safety Brenton Nelson to an injury in the first half against NC State. He left with what appeared to be a head injury and did not return.
Virginia managed 351 yards of offense. However, only 126 of those yards came in the first half. Outside of the 8-play, 67-yard drive which ended with the Zaccheaus touchdown, UVA produced just 59 yards in four drives in the first two quarters. Three of those four drives ended with punts while the fourth and final drive of the half ended with a Perkins interception, which set up NC State’s field goal as time expired.
The Virginia offense racked up 261 yards in its final four drives on Saturday, reaching the red zone all four times but scoring only twice.
While NC State’s offense was efficient, balanced, timely and turnover-free, its defense was impressive as well, shutting down Virginia’s rushing attack, holding the Cavaliers to four-of-13 on third down, sacking Perkins four times and forcing two turnovers. UVA’s offensive line had trouble opening any holes for Ellis, who had 13 carries for 30 yards and a touchdown. Perkins was held to 24 yards on 14 carries. Zaccheaus had two carries for 39 yards, boosting the rushing total to 93 yards on 29 attempts.
Perkins finished with 20 pass completions in 35 attempts for 258 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The senior Zaccheaus led the way in receiving, totaling nine catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Dubois, a junior, had a good game with six catches for 67 yards, while Kelly chipped in with a career-high three receptions for a career-high 57 yards. As the coaches look for another consistent offensive weapon, this game could potentially have been Kelly’s “coming out party” in that regard.
“We just missed plays we should have made,” Perkins said in a postgame interview with Ahmad Hawkins.
Of NC State, Perkins said: “They had a great up front. They were big and physical.”
Virginia will look to rebound when it hosts Miami on October 13. The Hoos have a bye next weekend.