Emezie, late rally gives NC State improbable win over UNC

27November 2021

North Carolina Tar HeelsNorth Carolina Tar Heels 30
NC State Wolfpack24NC State Wolfpack 34

Wake Forest might keep NC State out of the ACC championship game but North Carolina won’t.

Emeka Emezie capped a late comeback to lift No. 20 NC State to an improbable 34-30 home win over UNC on Friday night.

NC State (9-3, 6-2 ACC) needs the Demon Deacons to lose at Boston College on Saturday to win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC championship game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.

Emezie caught a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Devin Leary 26 seconds apart, the second with 1:09 left, to push the Wolfpack ahead for the last time.

Sam Howell nearly turned out the lights on NC State’s championship dream on Friday at Carter-Finley Stadium. The UNC quarterback ran for two touchdowns, and threw for another, as the Tar Heels (6-6, 3-5) turned a 14-0 deficit into a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.

UNC led 30-21 with 2:12 left in the game and looked like it was going to win. But Leary hit a 64-yard strike to Emezie at 1:35 to make it 30-28.

Kicker Chris Dunn then recovered his own onside kick to give the Wolfpack the ball right back. A roughing the passer penalty and a pass interference penalty on UNC moved the ball into UNC territory and seemingly was setting up Dunn to attempt the game-winner.

Then Leary threw a 24-yard strike to Emezie for the go-ahead score with 1:09 left on the clock. Leary finished 19 of 30 for 247 yards with four touchdowns.

NC State’s defense came up with one last stop to preserve the win. Howell threw the last pass into a crowd in the end zone from the 30-yard line but Derrek Pitts came down with the interception.

A 26-yard touchdown catch by Thayer Thomas cut UNC’s lead to 24-21 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter. The Wolfpack offense had sputtered after getting a big early special-teams break.

Jordan Houston blocked a punt after UNC’s opening drive, which C.J. Riley recovered for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead at 13:37 in the first quarter.

A 9-yard touchdown pass from Leary to Trent Pennix at 2:14 in the first quarter extended NC State’s lead to 14-0.

Howell, who returned to the lineup after sitting out last week’s win over Wofford with an injury, and the UNC offense got going after that.

British Brooks came into the game with 11 carries (for 99 yards) in 11 games on the season. A 40-yard by Brooks set up a 22-yard field goal for UNC by Grayson Atkins at 14:06 in the second quarter. Brooks finished with 124 yards on 15 carries.

A 4-yard TD run by Howell with 2:02 left in the first half cut NC State’s lead to 14-10.

The Tar Heels scored on their first two possessions of the second half. Howell’s 12-yard TD run made it 17-14 at 9:05 in the third quarter. That was set up by a fumble by NC State running back Ricky Person.

Howell’s 17-yard strike to Olson at 6:03 in the third made it 24-14.

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