Nov 26, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Zonovan Knight (7) is tackled after a run by North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Cedric Gray (33) during the first half at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

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No. 20 NCSU keeps ACC championship hopes alive with wild comeback

Devin Leary threw two touchdown passes to Emeka Emezie in the final 1:35 as No. 20 North Carolina State pulled out a remarkable comeback to defeat visiting North Carolina 34-30 and keep alive its hopes for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C.

Leary’s 64-yard scoring pass to Emezie gave the Wolfpack a shot. Then kicker Christopher Dunn recovered his own onside kick. After a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Tar Heels, NC State converted that into a 24-yard scoring play between Leary and Emezie with 1:09 left.

The game ended on an interception by Derrek Pitts in the end zone.

NC State (9-3, 6-2) still needs a Wake Forest loss Saturday at Boston College in order to secure the Atlantic Division’s berth in next weekend’s ACC championship game opposite Pittsburgh in Charlotte, N.C.

Leary had four touchdown throws and 247 passing yards. The Wolfpack completed an undefeated home schedule for the first time since 1986.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, a junior who missed a game for the first time in his career last week to recuperate from an injury, ran for two touchdowns and passed for another.

North Carolina (6-6, 3-5) appeared in good shape after Grayson Atkins’ third field goal, a 50-yarder with 2:12 to play and the Wolfpack with just one timeout left. That made it 30-21.

The Tar Heels were trying to guarantee a third straight winning season since the return of coach Mack Brown in his second stint as the team’s coach. Running back British Brooks gained 124 rushing yards and Howell picked up 98 yards on the ground to go with 147 passing yards.

The Wolfpack pulled within 24-21 in the final minute of the third quarter on a 26-yard pass play from Leary to Thayer Thomas.

North Carolina scored 24 straight points across the second and third quarters for a 24-14 lead.

It began with Atkins’ 22-yard field goal. Howell ran in from 4 yards out with 2:02 remaining in the first half.

Howell ran for a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter, giving the Tar Heels their first lead of the game. Howell’s pass to Justin Olson for 17 yards on North Carolina’s next possession extended the advantage.

It also marked touchdowns on three consecutive possessions for North Carolina, which punted at the end of four of its first five possessions.

During that stretch, the Wolfpack had a missed field goal on Dunn’s 50-yard attempt, a fumble and a punt.

NC State broke out on top, scoring less than 90 seconds into the game when C.J. Riley returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

It was 14-0 after Trent Pinnix caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Leary later in the first quarter.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.


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