CFP rankings 4.0: Cincinnati finally gets respect and a likely path to final four
SportsPulse: Dan Wolken reacts to the latest College Football Playoff rankings that saw Cincinnati become the first Group of Five team to crack the top four.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Emeka Emezie’s final catch at Carter-Finley Stadium will be the one that’s never forgotten.
Playing in his final home game as a fifth-year senior, Emezie hauled in his second touchdown catch in a span of 26 seconds — a 24-yard strike from quarterback Devin Leary — to eliminate a nine-point deficit with two minutes remaining and secure No. 24 North Carolina State’s wild 34-30 win against North Carolina.
He was still in shock moments after the game.
“What just happened, honestly,” said Emezie, N.C. State’s all-time leader in receptions. “It doesn’t feel real. I really just thank God. You can’t script that up. You can’t envision that. That’s a blessing.”
For the second time this season, fans at Carter-Finley Stadium stormed the field.
“What a game,” coach Dave Doeren said after the win. “That’s why you play until the last second runs off the clock.”
The Tar Heels, which had their three-game win streak over N.C. State snapped, led 30-21 with 2:12 left in the game after a 50-yard field goal, but a 64-yard pass from Leary to Emezie two plays later cut the score to 30-28 with 1:35 to play.
Kicker Chris Dunn recovered his own onside kick to set up N.C. State’s game-winning drive. The win keeps the Wolfpack (9-3, 6-2) alive for a spot in the ACC title game, needing a Wake Forest loss to Boston College on Saturday. They finish the regular season undefeated at home for the first time since 1986. They can win 10 games for the second time in program history.
UNC dropped to 6-6 on the season.
“The goal is the ACC Championship, so we’re going to be Boston College fans tomorrow,” Doeren said.
Leary, who finished with four touchdown passes and 247 yards passing, set the school’s single-season record for passing touchdowns with 35, passing Phillip Rivers. He was two short of the record with less than two minutes left in the game.
“As soon as we recovered the kick I knew we were going to score, somehow, someway,” Leary said.
Normally, the defense has come to the rescue this season, but this time, the offense saved the day.
N.C. State, playing without multiple starters including defensive backs Devan Boykin and Tyler Baker-Williams — both ruled out at game time — allowed a season-high 297 rushing yards and three total touchdowns to UNC quarterback Sam Howell.
Howell led the Tar Heels to 24 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter with touchdown runs of 4 and 12 yards and a 17-yard pass to Justin Olsen.
The Wolfpack scored the game’s first 14 points on a punt block recovered by CJ Riley in the end zone and a 9-yard pass from Devin Leary to Trent Pennix. They would not score again until late in the third quarter.
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at [email protected], at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.