Nyheim Hines has the whole birthday thing backward. You’re supposed to get gifts on your birthday, not give them.
Hines will turn 21 on Sunday. The junior running back decided to give his teammates, and all N.C. State fans, a gift – a rare win over Boston College.
Hines’ 50-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter saved the Wolfpack’s season and lifted it to a 17-14 road win over Eagles.
“It wasn’t really a big play for me,” Hines said.
The selfless sort, Hines was trying to give credit to the training staff – for getting his ankle in shape after being slowed the past two games – and his offensive line.
But make no mistake, without Hines’ late burst or 110-yard effort, any talk of a “special” season would have been just that – talk.
N.C. State (7-3, 5-1 ACC) suffered back-to-back losses, in part because it didn’t have Hines at full strength and in part because it couldn’t stop the run.
With Boston College (5-5, 3-4) freshman A.J. Dillon piling up 136 yards in the first half, and then a colossal blunder on a trick play at the end of the third quarter, N.C. State was headed for a third straight loss and another loss at BC.
Senior defensive end Bradley Chubb certainly did his share, he had four tackles for loss. A blocked punt before the end of the half was also critical for the Wolfpack.
But the credit for this win – only the second in seven ACC trips to BC – goes to Hines, who finished with 110 yards on 19 carries.
N.C. State gave the Eagles a gift to set up Thadd Smith’s 12-yard touchdown run with 11 seconds left in the third quarter. Jaylen Samuels tried to lateral the ball, on a designed double-pass, to quarterback Ryan Finley.
The first part of the trick play never materialized, and Boston College linebacker Kevin Bletzer picked up the fumble near midfield and returned it to N.C. State’s 23-yard line.
Smith’s jet sweep left N.C. State was down 14-10 in the fourth quarter and in trouble. The kicking game was disjointed, quarterback Ryan Finley was off his game (he finished just 13-of-32) and Dillon (36 carries, 196 yards) had hit just enough big plays to give the Eagles a late lead.
Then Hines struck. Senior right guard Tony Adams got a good block inside, and right tackle Will Richardson got a kickout block on the outside.
Hines, looking like his old Garner High self, found the crease and took off down the sideline. Receiver Kelvin Harmon gave him a late escort into the end zone.
N.C. State being N.C. State and this being a game against Boston College – which seemingly annually saves its best game for the Wolfpack – Hines’ touchdown at 8:33 in the fourth quarter wasn’t the end.
On Boston College’s next drive, the Eagles reached the N.C. State 18-yard line. On third down, Chubb dropped Dillon for a 4-yard loss. On fourth down, Colton Lichtenberg came out for a 39-yard field goal to try to tie the score.
The snap bounced to holder Jeff Smith, who popped up and tried to throw the ball to reserve fullback Colton Cardinal. The ball sailed out of bounds and N.C. State was still up three points.
Usually it’s N.C. State on the other end of a special-teams gaffe like that in late-game situations.
“When the ball rolls your way, you just take it and run with it and appreciate it,” senior safety Shawn Boone said. “We’ve been on the other side plenty of times.”
The Wolfpack has been on the other side of big games the last two weeks without Hines at 100 percent. He turned his right ankle in the first quarter of the 35-14 loss at Notre Dame on Oct. 28.
He said he was about 70 to 75 percent in last week’s loss to Clemson. The last two weeks, he has only been able to carry the ball 10 times for 40 yards.
Hines is N.C. State’s home-run hitter. Without him, the Pack has Samuels, who ran for an 8-yard touchdown, and receiver Kelvin Harmon (five catches, 68 yards), but it’s not the same offense.
N.C. State did have the soon-to-be birthday boy on Saturday. He delivered when they needed him most.
“Somehow we find a way to win,” Hines said. “Instead of find a way to lose, which we did last year.”
Another 7- or 8-win season would have been empty exercise for the Wolfpack this season after a 6-1 start. And any season including a loss to Boston College can’t really be considered special.
Hines made sure that didn’t happen on Saturday. Now N.C. State still has a chance at a 10-win season. That would be a special. The important win was a pretty good birthday gift, too.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio