GREENVILLE, NC — The NC State football team survived near disaster Saturday, as the Pack held on to beat ECU 21-20.

The Pirates missed the potential tying extra point late in the 4th quarter. A few minutes later, ECU missed a possible winning field-goal attempt in the final seconds.

The Pack struggled to convert offensively, as NC State came up empty on 2 straight goal-line situations. Quarterback Devin Leary struggled with consistency, as the Pack failed to generate much as an offense.

Here are some thoughts on NC State’s narrow win against ECU:

The Good

Demie Sumo-Karngbaye is the guy

NC State entered Saturday’s game with Jordan Houston as the top running back, but sophomore Demie Sumo-Karngbaye might have stolen the job.

Sumo-Karngbaye rushed 14 times for 79 yards and a touchdown, breaking away for a 24-yard score that was 1 of 2 offensive touchdowns for the Pack. Sumo-Karngbaye had a few really powerful, impressive runs during the game.

At times, Sumo-Karngbaye looked to be NC State’s definitive answer at running back. While he did fail to punch the ball in from the goal-line during the 4th quarter, overall it was a success for Sumo-Karngbaye in his 1st game getting consistent snaps at running back for the Pack.

The defense held strong

NC State nearly lost its season opener in horrifying fashion Saturday, but it wouldn’t have been the fault of the defense.

The Pack’s defensive corps held the Pirates to just 20 points, as Holton Ahlers and the ECU offense never found too much of a groove. ECU had a 70-yard touchdown drive on its 2nd possession, and it had another long scoring drive during the 3rd quarter.

But other than that, NC State’s defense held firm. Ahlers, while not pressured too much, didn’t ever settle in, as the Pack’s secondary also picked off the veteran ECU quarterback twice. The 1st of those picks was by Tyler Baker-Williams on the 2nd play of the game.

If there’s anything the Pack will want to improve on defensively it’s the pass rush. Ahlers was not sacked, and for the most part he had some time. But still, it was an overall strong effort from the Wolfpack’s defense to hold an experienced ECU offense to 20 points.

Special teams shone bright

The best of the 3 phases of the game Saturday for NC State was its special teams, which made a handful of exceptional plays.

For starters, NC State scored a special teams touchdown during the 1st half. Jasiah Provillon blocked an ECU punt and Sean Brown recovered, with Brown running it in for a touchdown. Brown made a great open-field tackle on the kickoff prior, helping set up the backed up punt.
New Wolfpack punter Shane McDonough also had a big moment, pinning a punt at the 1 after NC State decided not to go for it on 4th down in no man’s land.

Thayer Thomas had a good punt return to set up a very short field for the Wolfpack, and Julian Gray had a really strong kickoff return in the 1st half as well.

Luck of the Pack

As a whole, NC State isn’t used to having luck on its side.

The Wolfpack’s misfortunes across every sport have been well documented. NC State’s football team itself experienced some critical missed field-goal attempts in a near-upset of Clemson a few years ago.

But Saturday, the luck was on the side of the Wolfpack. ECU missed attempts on an extra point and a field goal, both of which would have changed the game entirely. The Pack probably should have lost, but it didn’t.

For what feels like the 1st time in a long time, luck was on the side of the Wolfpack.

The bad

Goal-line offense

NC State’s offense had back-to-back drives during the 4th quarter reach the ECU goal line. The Wolfpack came away with no points from those drives.

On the first, Houston fumbled on 3rd down as he tried to punch the ball in. A 12-play, 74-yard drive ended in absolutely nothing for the Pack. The Wolfpack’s defense did its job immediately after, forcing a 3-and-out.

The Pack drove the ball down to the goal line on its next possession, too. And once again, NC State couldn’t punch the ball in. This time it was Sumo-Karngbaye who got the chance, though he couldn’t convert. The Wolfpack ran the ball 4 straight times from the 1 and got stuffed each and every time.

If NC State wants to be the team it can be this season, it’s going to have to be able to find a way to score in that situation. The Pack’s offense didn’t have its greatest day, but it still easily could’ve scored 35.

Instead, the inability to move the ball 1 single yard gave ECU a prime chance to win the game.

Devin Leary struggled

Saturday was an uncharacteristically bad day for Devin Leary, the Pack’s veteran leader at quarterback.

Leary finished the day just 17-of-33 passing with 211 yards. He threw 1 touchdown and 1 interception, which led to what should have been ECU’s tying score.

Leary’s completion percentage was just 52%, lower than in any game in 2021. His 211 yards also were lower than any single-game output from last season, and he only had 1 game in all of 2021 where he had as many interceptions as touchdowns.

Leary wasn’t hitting his open receivers, and he also made some questionable decisions. His interception came on a pass that never should have been thrown.

If NC State is to have any chance whatsoever to win the ACC this season, Leary is absolutely going to have to be better than he was in Game 1.