This past Saturday was rough. And anyone who pulls for the team in red and white can attest to this.
I strolled into East Village Grill as Kyle Bambard was delivering the game opening kickoff to Clemson. There wasn’t a seat in the place so I leaned against the window sill near the bar with anticipation and optimism. This was the biggest game in Dave Doeren’s tenure at NC State and just like everyone in the room, we all expected a dog fight.
A few of my friends hurried in moments after me, but the score was already 7-0 Clemson. By the time NC State point guard Braxton Beverly had come in, it was 14-0 Clemson. Beverly, without a seat also, leaned against the window sill beside myself and a few friends. I asked him if his beard was gonna be a season long staple and if it was his good luck charm. “Let’s sure hope so” Beverly told me as he grinned. A mutual friend asked “What happened to your hand?” Beverly had a protruding hand brace covering his entire wrist and hand. “Broke it yesterday” said Beverly.
I gazed up at the TV as the score displayed 21-0. Clemson’s lead was beginning to swell. It was as if you could just look at the faces of the people inside the restaurant and have predicted the score. “They haven’t released it to the media yet” Beverly added. I pulled up my Twitter https://mobile.twitter.com/NCSUFans “I guess I could break the story” I chirped in. We both chuckled and I assured him it wasn’t my place to. I mean c’mon, wasn’t this Clemson game enough bad news for WPN already? By halftime, the game was 24-0 and it would only get worse from there.
I guess what happens in Raleigh, stays in Raleigh…at least for a day or two.
On March 10, 2012, NC State Quarterback Ryan Finely committed to play Division 1 football. At the same time, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence was a 12 year old experiencing his first year of middle school.
As Lawrence was progressing his way through middle school, Ryan Finley was fighting for a spot at Boise State University. Finley was able secure a starting position in a reasonable time before injuries halted his success. Lawrence, however, was also securing a starting job as a freshman for his high school football team. By 2016, Trevor Lawrence was regarded by many as the best high school player in the nation shattering records while Finely was presented with a opportunity to play 2,439 miles away at NC State. He took it.
Finley flourished the first two years at NC State. He adopted a leadership role quickly and when it came time for the 5th year senior to declare for the NFL draft, he declined. A packed quarterback slate in the 2018 draft and a chance at redemption were the deciding factors in Finley’s return to NC State. Just two states south of North Carolina, the top football high school prospect in the nation had just committed to play quarterback for Clemson.
Finely has directed his team to a swift 5-0 start with most NFL scouts predicting him to be the first quarterback out of the 2019 NFL draft. Trevor Lawrence was able to take a starting job from a highly experienced quarterback as an 18 year old. Besides Alabama, Clemson has been the most dominate football program this decade. Weeks ago, the long haired 6’6″ Freshman, who resembles “Sunshine” from Remember The Titans, turned 19 years old. Finley, 24, has suffered three years of heartbreak to his division rival. Clemson has been the hump NC State has not been able to get over to secure a ACC title bid.
This Saturday Ryan Finley plays his biggest game in his college career and is promsies to be a classic. Experienced vs electric. Old vs new. Pack vs Tigers. 6 year Senior vs Freshman. Finley vs Lawrence.
Dave Doeren’s path to a 5-0 start has been years in the making. 5 years to be exact.
Doeren discovered quickly that at NC State, nothing comes easy. This proved true 5 years ago when #3 Clemson rolled into Raleigh. The Pack were down 6 points in the 3rd quarter when NC State Wide Receiver Bryan Underwood ran a 87-yard TD but the score was overturned by a fluke call by ACC officials. Carter-Finely went silent as Clemson proceeded to score the next possession. It was as if Dabo Swinney was saying “Welcome to the ACC, coach.”
The next year, Dabo lead his team to a 41-0 beat down of the Pack in Death Valley. By 2015, Doeren had began to establish a system at NC State. Players began buying in on his vision: One Pack, One Goal. That goal was a trip to the ACC Championship. Clemson rolled in Raleigh once again with a unblemished record and again, a #3 national ranking. The 2015 matchup showed Wolfpacknation that we had real talent in Raleigh again. Jacoby Brisett, Nyheim Hines and Jaylan Samuels fought in shootout but lack of a kicking game and 6 touchdowns from Clemson QB Deshaun Watson resulted in a 56-41 loss. Disappointing, but still progress.
In one of the most infamous games in NC State history, undefeated #1 Clemson beat NC State in OT after two heart wrenching pooch kicks were missed by NC State. Dabo and company proceeded to win the national championship later that season. The game had most of us wondering how we can get any closer winning a game and still lose?
The goal has always been ACC championships since Dave Doeren walked into the Wendell Murphy facilities. Doeren assembled a highly talented team in 2017, but as the case has been for nearly a decade, you have to go through Dabo Swinney and the boys in orange to make it out of the Atlantic division. Another one possession loss against, you guessed it, an undefeated #4 Clemson. It proved to be the deciding factor in NC State’s ACC championship dreams diminishing. Playing Clemson is personal for veteran players. Playing Clemson is personal for Dave Doeren.
You can expect a dance in the locker room if the Pack upsets Clemson. A dance 5 years in the making. This time it won’t be Dabo, but Doeren. And after a 3 hour ride up I-95, you might just see a few thousand Pack fans waiting for the team bus at Wendell Murphy, where it all began.