Quarterbacks, like coaches, tend to remember the bad plays more than the good ones.
So it will be for N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley after the Pack’s 38-31 loss to No. 6 Clemson on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Finley, playing against a fast, aggressive defense, made some nice throws and fooled the Tigers a few times with some runs. He was 31-of-50 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns, numbers usually good enough to win games.
But there were some plays, some decisions, that will stick with him.
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As Finley put it, “I don’t think I played well enough for us to win.”
Midway through the third quarter, with the Pack leading 21-17, Finley had Kelvin Harmon open deep down the right side and overthrew the receiver – the groans of Pack fans rolling through the stadium. With no Clemson defender in the vicinity, the play could have gone for a touchdown and given the Pack an 11-point lead.
“We missed a great opportunity to Kelvin,” NCSU coach Dave Doeren said. “That would have been a huge play. We ended up going three-and-out that drive, so that was a critical play.”
Instead, Clemson scored on Kelly Bryant’s 12-yard TD pass to wideout Deon Cain, then hit the big play to end the third quarter – Tavien Feaster’s 89-yard touchdown run.
Finley and the Pack responded with a scoring drive, Finley hitting Harmon for 32 yards and then Jakobi Meyers for a 15-yard TD. When the Pack defense then stopped Clemson on a third-and-short play to force a punt, N.C. State had the ball back at its 28 and Wolfpack fans were fully engaged.
But on first down, Finley, under pressure, fell as he tried to scramble. Make it a loss of 9 yards.
Next, he tried to force a pass to the left side, and Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter, perfectly positioned, made the interception at the NCSU 27. The Tigers converted the turnover as quarterback Kelly Bryant scored on a short touchdown run.
“That pick was pretty costly at a costly moment,” Finley said. “You just can’t do that.”
And missing Harmon on the deep one in the third?
“That’s the second play I want back, after the pick,” Finley said.
Finley led the Pack down the field, and Kyle Bambard’s 22-yard field goal pulled the Pack within 38-31.
In the final minute of the game, another potential big play came up empty. Finley’s pass to Jaylen Samuels was broken up by K’von Wallace just before the goal line. Finley’s last-gasp pass, on fourth-and-15 at the Clemson 33, was picked off by Wallace.
“I just didn’t want to die with the ball in my hands,” Finley said.
Finley and the Pack said the season is far from dead. It was the Wolfpack’s first ACC loss, and while Clemson now is in charge in the Atlantic Division, Doeren said the goal was to win the final three games and a bowl for a 10-win season.
And, of course, hope that Clemson loses to Florida State.
“The message was the season is not over,” Finley said. “We’ll bounce back. Obviously one of our big goals is off the table but we still have a lot to play for.”