You can’t ask for respect, as Dave Doeren did several times this season.
It can only be earned.
Finally, in the last game of Year 9, the Wolfpack coach doesn’t have to ask anymore.
True respect doesn’t come from close losses or coulda-beens or never weres. It doesn’t come from blowout wins over South Alabama or Louisiana Tech.
It doesn’t come from draft success stories, 9-win seasons or Bitcoin Bowl wins, either (although those can be nice when historically the program plays at a .500 level).
It comes from moments like the wild final 95 seconds of Friday’s 34-30 win over North Carolina, in a game that looked like it would be another painful nail in a rivalry bed full of them with the Tar Heels.
Instead of another devastating loss, Emeka Emezie had other ideas. The fifth-year senior scored two touchdowns 26 seconds apart after State fell behind 30-21.
Emezie’s notable contribution in the first 57 minutes of the game was a dropped pass in the first quarter. He was ignored mostly after that as NC State’s play-calling veered from the vanilla into the idiotic.
Do everyone a favor and throw the screens on third-and-long out with the “let’s run the option with the punter to the kicker” on a fake field goal.
Emezie caught a 64-yarder to give NC State hope. Chris Dunn, who missed a would-be game-winner against Clemson back on Sept. 25, made amends by recovering his own onside kick to give Emezie a chance to catch a 24-yarder for the game-winner.
“The curse is broken,” Doeren said after NC State’s overtime win over Clemson back in September.
We still don’t know what curse but Friday deserves its own celebration independent of what happens on Saturday.
NC State (9-3, 6-2 ACC) can win the Atlantic Division with a Wake Forest loss on Saturday at Boston College. That would give the Wolfpack a chance to play for its first ACC title since 1979.
NC State is the only Power 5 school without a conference title since the calendar hit the 2000s in football, men’s basketball or baseball. Now that’s a curse that all in Red and White have long wished never existed.
But what Wake does can’t define State’s season. Not after Friday.
This game was more than just a chance to shut Carolina up, which has crowed since Brown’s return in 2019 due to success on the recruiting trail and all but hanging banners for offseason hype.
But Brown is now 7-6, 8-4 and 6-6 in his second stint. After starting this season in the top 10, and as the pick to win the Coastal, this season (with *that* quarterback) is nothing short of a failure for the Tar Heels.
Brown, who is a master of communication, can’t be blamed for drumming up interest in the dormant program in his return. Doeren can’t be blamed for being irritated for all of the attention, and respect, going 30 miles down the road.
After all, the same respect that has eluded Doeren hasn’t exactly been earned by Brown yet it had been bestowed.
After the losses to Mississippi State and Wake Forest earlier this season — and, heck, the ones to Wake Forest in 2017 and ’18 that still fester — Doeren needed this game.
Recruiting doesn’t turn with one win but Doeren and his staff can at least fire back when Mack and the Great Carolina Hype Machine cranks back up in the offseason.
Plus, NC State played its first football game 129 years ago. Once, in 2002, has an NC State team finished with double-digit wins. Whatever Wake does on Saturday, State has that to play for in the bowl game.
And, if nothing else, NC State doesn’t have to answer any more questions this season about difficult losses.
Wins are how respect is earned. With an incredible and unlikely comeback against the team everyone wants to beat the most, that’s exactly what Doeren and the Wolfpack have.