You can only keep Nyheim Hines bottled up for so long. Once he gets going, he’s hard to stop. The N.C. State junior running back exploded for a couple of long touchdowns, breaking the game open in the second half, as the Wolfpack downed North Carolina 33-21 on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
It was the first time since 2012 that the home team won in this heated rivalry. A lot of the credit goes to Hines, who finished with a career-high 196 yards on 22 carries. The Garner High graduate broke for a 54-yard score on the last play of the third quarter and followed that with a 48 run on his first touch of the fourth to give the Wolfpack a 13-point lead.
Hines, who had 67 yards in the first half, had an additional 20 yards on three carries in the third quarter before bursting through the UNC defense for his first score of the day. Hines, who came into the game needing 156 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season, wasn’t done.
On the first play of the fourth quarter Hines broke through the right side, cut across the field and showed off the track speed again, running away from the Tar Heels defenders for a 48-yard score, giving N.C. State a 27-14 lead after Ryan Finley’s 2-point conversion toss to Jakobi Meyers. The second score for Hines came on the heels of an interception by linebacker Airius Moore, his second of the season, who picked off Nathan Elliott on UNC’s first drive of the fourth quarter.
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Hines hadn’t practice all week with the team and had to pass the concussion protocal in order to suit up. Not playing against their biggest rival was never an issue for the 5-9 running back.
“Just growing up here it’s really important for me to play in this game and I knew I would not miss it,” Hines, sporting a red blazer after the game, said. “I would have to break an arm or a leg not to play. Our training staff did a great job all week getting me ready to play.”
The Wolfpack (8-4, 6-2 ACC) still wasn’t out of the woods yet as Elliott led the Tar Heels on an 11-play, 76-yard drive, hitting Jordan Cunningham for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 27-21 in favor of N.C. State with 8:16 remaining.
But on the ensuing drive the Wolfpack managed to burn 6:43 off the clock, closing the door on UNC’s comeback attempt and season after a 10-yard scoring run by senior Jaylen Samuels.
“I’m really proud of our players and how they came out of halftime and responded,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said. “We lost our poise in the first half, we knew it was going to be a spirited game and didn’t handle some things well, but I thought we repsonded and played a really good football game in the second half.”
The Tar Heels, devastated by injuries this season, finish the year 3-9 and 1-8 in the ACC.
“It was a heck of a game,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “We just ran out of gas. The 11 guys we put out on the field, they faught and gave everything they had.”
Elliott, the third-string quarterback when the season started who took control of the offense the last three games, finished with 277 yards passing and three scores. The Texan finished with two interceptions, including one to Germaine Pratt with three seconds remaining.
North Carolina led at the half 14-12, despite N.C. State out gaining the Tar Heels 157-131. North Carolina got some help from the Wolfpack on their its scoring drive, keeping things alive thanks to consecutive pass interference calls against N.C. State, moving the ball into Wolfpack territory. Two plays later Elliott hit a wide-open Anthony Ratliff-Williams for a 51-yard score.
Ratliff-Williams, the former high school quarterback, was a problem for the N.C. State secondary. The redshirt sophomore caught three passes for 101 yards in the first half, finding himself all alone on a pair of catches.
On the Tar Heels’ first drive of the second quarter, Elliott found Ratliff-Williams for a 39-yard gain, setting up Elliott’s second touchdown pass of the afternoon. On second-and-10 from the 24, Elliott ran toward the line of scrimmage, but pulled up at the last minute, tossing a pass to a wide-open Michael Carter, giving the visitors a 14-6 lead with 11:46 remaining in the first half.
N.C. State got on the board thanks to a pair of short runs by Finley, who took it in from the 3 on the Wolfpack’s opening drive and added a 5-yard run before the half to make it 14-12.
N.C. State’s last scoring drive of the first half was set up by the best stand of its defense in the first half. After UNC gained 11 yards on its first three plays, the Tar Heels were minus-26 on their next five, highlighted by Darian Roseboro’s sack of Elliott for a 16-yard loss. State answered with an 8-play, 66-yard drive, with most of the damage (46 yards) coming on the ground, capped off by Finley’s second scoring run of the day and just his third of the season.
N.C. State could have added to its scoring total in the first half, getting the ball back with two minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The Wolfpack, however, didn’t manage the clock well, and Finley threw one up for grabs on third-and-6, and the pass was picked off by UNC safety Myles Wolfolk.
It appeared the Tar Heels forced their second turnover of the day in the third quarter, but a personal foul against Malik Carney for a late hit on Finley took away a forced fumble that was recovered by UNC safety J.K. Britt. After Britt’s return, cornerback K.J. Sails was called for another personal foul, moving the ball to the Tar Heels’ 20. State, however, couldn’t take advantage. Two penalties – a holding call and offensive pass interference – backed State up to the 24, and Kyle Bambard missed a 41-yard attempt that sailed wide right.
Neither team played a clean game, as the rivals combined for 23 penalties for 235 yards. State, which entered the season with high expectations and hopes of an ACC title, will go to a bowl game for the fourth time in five years under head coach Dave Doeren. That announcement should come sometime after the ACC Championship game next week.
“To say we’ve got six wins, I think that’s really big for this program,” Doeren said. “We talk about going in the right direction ... it’s great to finish the year that way and I look forward to going out on the road recruiting with a win over our rival and I look forward to whatever bowl they put us in next Sunday.”