As Boston College marched downfield late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, and North Carolina State’s elite defense started to crumble, Eagles defensive end Marcus Valdez could feel the energy dissipate inside Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Eagles needed a touchdown and extra point to snap the No. 17 Wolfpack’s 16-game home winning streak and cement their first win over an Associated Press Top 25 team since 2014.
With the game on the line, redshirt freshman quarterback Emmett Morehead kept it simple and uncorked a pinpoint back-shoulder throw to freshman standout Joe Griffin Jr. that they’ve executed hundreds of times in practice.
Griffin made a spectacular one-handed grab with 14 seconds left to cap a 12-play, 69-yard drive that spanned 2 minutes, 33 seconds. Connor Lytton drilled the extra point, the defense came up with one final stop, and the Eagles stunned the Wolfpack, 21-20, at Raleigh, N.C.
“Honestly, it’s probably the best feeling I’ve felt in six years here,” said Valdez.
Late in the first quarter, BC receiver Zay Flowers (7 catches, 130 yards, 2 TDs) became the program’s all-time leader with 2,804 receiving yards, passing Alex Amidon (2,800 from 2010-13). He then hauled in a 17-yard TD pass from Morehead to slice the deficit to 14-7 with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
“I put him up against any wide receiver in the country right now,” Hafley said. “To be honest, there’s not another wide receiver I’d want on my team.”
Neto Okpala and Vinny DePalma helped the Eagles stuff the Wolfpack on fourth and goal from the 1 midway through the second quarter, but BC couldn’t take advantage offensively. Christopher Dunn drilled a 30-yard field goal on the ensuing N.C. State drive to push the margin to 10 with 1:36 left in the half.
Morehead, who threw four TD passes in his first career start last week against Duke, was sharp in stretches against the ACC’s best defense (17.8 points allowed per game).
“He’s so calm,” Flowers said. “It feels like you’re never down playing with Emmett.”
Morehead did, however, throw a costly interception late in the half to curb BC’s momentum and help the Wolfpack preserve a 17-7 cushion heading into halftime. There were some plays he wanted back, but Hafley reminded Morehead to stay calm and continue to trust himself.
BC held a 140-124 edge in passing yards in the first half, but N.C. State’s 150-2 advantage in rushing yards and three sacks paid dividends. The Eagles finished 0 for 6 on third down in the half and allowed 8.1 yards per play.
Dunn drilled a 45-yarder to extend N.C. State’s lead to 20-7 early in the third. Four minutes later, Flowers zigzagged his way into the end zone for a 35-yard strike to trim the deficit to 20-14 and give the Eagles much-needed momentum.
“He’s like a magician out there,” Hafley said.
N.C. State, also playing with a promising but inexperienced quarterback, gave the Eagles plenty of chances late. Morris fumbled near midfield, and Okpala recovered, but Morehead threw another pick moments later as N.C. State kept a 6-point edge through three.
DePalma recovered a fumble early in the fourth, and Elijah Jones later intercepted Morris, but the Eagles couldn’t capitalize until the final drive.
Morehead found Dino Tomlin for 29 yards and George Takacs for 17, and eventually Griffin to secure one of the Eagles’ most monumental wins this millennium.
The 25 straight losses to ranked teams — the second-longest streak in the country — is history, and Hafley couldn’t be happier. As the Eagles celebrated, Hafley didn’t want them to stop.
It was just one win, but it carried more weight because of what came before and what the Eagles hope will follow.
“No one thought we could win, but the one group that did was our team,” Hafley said. “That locker room is still loud right now, and it’s going to be, and it should be. They deserve it. I’m really, really proud of them.”
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