RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State figures it’s had way too much practice at bouncing back from soul-crushing losses over the years. Finding an emotional edge shouldn’t be a problem against rival North Carolina.
The Wolfpack (7-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) play host to the Tar Heels (3-8, 1-7) on Saturday hoping to prevent an agonizing loss to Wake Forest from turning into a second defeat.
It’s also the final home game for a group of 20 seniors that made up coach Dave Doeren’s first recruiting class.
”I don’t sit there and drum up the series and all that. I don’t really have to do that,” Doeren said. ”I had those seniors stand up (at a practice). `Do you need a reason to play your best football?’ The fact that it’s UNC adds to that. . I don’t need to add to that to get them to play hard. They’re going to play hard.”
By Doeren’s count, North Carolina State has lost five games during the past two seasons in which a single play flipped the outcome – perpetuating a profane Twitter hashtag that encapsulates the fan base’s brace-for-the-worst tendencies.
The most recent example came last week when the Wolfpack lost 30-24 to the Demon Deacons after backup receiver Emeka Emezie fumbled inches before he would have scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final 2 minutes. Quarterback Ryan Finley also threw an interception in the end zone with a second to play.
”Emeka will be a better football player for that play,” Doeren said. ”It’s unfortunate we had to live it, but that’s football.”
The Wolfpack are expecting a challenge from a North Carolina team that hopes to end a disappointing, injury-marred season on a high note. The Tar Heels have won two straight, beating Pittsburgh and Western Carolina.
”What our team has done, under the circumstances, has played extremely hard,” coach Larry Fedora said. ”We’re starting to make fewer mistakes and a lot of the young guys that are playing are making fewer mistakes. . We’re playing better as a football team right now, and I like the way we’re playing at this point, heading into this last game, yes.”
Some things to know about the UNC-N.C. State game:
GREAT NATE: It looks like Nathan Elliott will earn a third straight start for the Tar Heels. The redshirt sophomore has thrown six touchdown passes in his first two career starts against Pitt and Western Carolina, including a four-TD effort against the Catamounts. ”Nobody should think that Nathan has arrived, because he doesn’t think that,” Fedora said. ”He knows he can get a lot better. … I think what’s happening right now is, he’s gaining confidence in every play that he’s out there … (and) the whole team’s gaining confidence, also.”
CHUBB WATCH: N.C. State will need DE Bradley Chubb to get pressure on Elliott. Wake Forest didn’t allow a sack in last week’s win – just the fourth time all season that Chubb didn’t have one in a game. The Wolfpack’s record in those games is 1-3. He hasn’t gone two consecutive games without a sack in 2017.
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE? The home team in this rivalry is 0-4 in the last four years, and a home team hasn’t won since North Carolina’s 43-35 victory in 2012 – when N.C. State made the unwise decision to punt to Gio Bernard.
HEALING HEELS: North Carolina has dealt with a rash of injuries all season but the Tar Heels are starting to get its banged-up players healthy. One of them – WR Austin Proehl – made a surprising return last week after breaking his clavicle in September and caught three passes for 52 yards while also returning a punt 17 yards.
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