No. 13 NC State survived an upset bid from East Carolina on Saturday when Pirates' kicker Owen Daffer missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with five seconds left, allowing the Wolfpack to escape with a 21-20 victory. The dramatic ending capped a horrific day of special teams play for the Pirates, which trailed 21-7 at halftime before staging a second-half comeback.
Daffer also missed a potential game-tying PAT attempt with 2:58 remaining. The sophomore entered the season with confidence after earning first-team All-AAC honors for his performance as a redshirt freshman in 2021, which made his late misses all the more stunning. Daffer hit 19 of 23 field goal attempts last season and made 39 of 41 extra points.
But his struggles were just part of the issue on special teams for ECU. NC State fell on a blocked punt in the end zone to surge ahead 14-7 with 1:34 left in the first quarter. NC State added another score before halftime to increase its lead to 14 points.
NC State remained in control for much of the second half but struggled to gain true separation because of offensive issues. A 74-yard drive that nearly ended with a touchdown instead resulted in a fumble early in the fourth quarter, leaving the door open for the Pirates. Veteran quarterback Devin Leary also threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter that led to ECU's final touchdown. When running back Rahjai Harris scored a 3-yard touchdown with 2:58 remaining, it seemed the game was about to be tied. But then came the missed extra point and a lot of heartache for ECU's home crowd.
The dramatic game served to reignite a series that NC State dominated in the last two meetings. After three straight wins for East Carolina in 2010, 2013 and 2016, the Wolfpack won games against the Pirates by a combined 92-9 in 2018 and 2019.
Saturday's tightly contested showdown was an indication that fourth-year ECU coach Mike Houston has laid a strong foundation for his program. The teams are scheduled to meet again in 2025 and 2028. An intriguing North Carolina showdown should produce more exciting results down the road.
NC State's offensive issues
Leary was voted the ACC's Preseason Player of the Year after throwing for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions last season. But Week 1 marked a rough start to his redshirt senior campaign. Leary completed just 17 of 33 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown and an interception that set up ECU's late touchdown.
Leary hit nine different pass-catchers during the game, but without last season's top receiver Emeka Emezie it was unclear on Saturday who will be a big-play threat for the Wolfpack in the passing game.
NC State star linebacker Payton Wilson suffered an upper body injury in the first half and did not return. The redshirt junior was a first-team All-ACC performer in 2020 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 2 against Mississippi State. Wilson missed all of spring practice as well but was named a preseason first-team All-ACC member. His absence would be a big loss for the Wolfpack defense.