North Carolina State’s offense is still finding playmakers ready for bigger roles.
Freshman Ricky Person, Jr. ran for a season-high 108 yards while sophomore receiver Emeka Emezie had his own big day to help North Carolina State beat Virginia 35-21 on Saturday, claiming its Atlantic Coast Conference opener along with a 4-0 start.
Person hadn’t played since the opener due to a hamstring issue, but provided big-play burst to the Wolfpack’s grind-it-out ground game. And Emezie gave NFL prospect Ryan Finley yet another receiving target at an already stocked position.
“Good teams have good depth,” Finley said, “and that’s what you’re seeing from us.”
Person ran six times for 5 yards in the opening win against James Madison and hadn’t played since — and he’s still not fully past the hamstring issue. But he’s the team’s first 100-yard rusher this season — in just 14 carries — and earned the game ball afterward from coach Dave Doeren.
“I knew my time was coming,” Person said. “I just had to take advantage of it.”
Then there’s Emezie, a 6-foot-3 sophomore with five catches for a career-best 90 yards and a second-quarter TD for the Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0). Doeren pointed to Emezie following the lead of fellow receivers Kelvin Harmon and Stephen Louis.
“What Steph and Kelvin do, they work as hard as any player in the country,” Doeren said. “And he just said, ‘I want to be just like you.’ He went everywhere they went for a whole offseason.
“It’s easy to say you’ve got great leaders but it also takes the followers to know who to follow.”
Bryce Perkins connected twice with Olamide Zaccheaus for touchdowns for the Cavaliers (3-2, 1-1), including a 35-yarder for Virginia’s only lead at 7-3. But the Wolfpack responded with 24 unanswered points to lead 27-7 in the third, putting the Cavs in catch-up mode the rest of the afternoon.
“I think they earned the victory today,” Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We played well enough to make it interesting but not well enough to win the game.”
Virginia: Perkins and Zaccheaus (nine catches, 109 yards) were tough matchups all day, but Virginia’s offense struggled to get much going until after N.C. State led big. Virginia got a late touchdown, recovered an onside kick and drove inside the 10 before Dexter Wright batted and intercepted Perkins’ pass with 1:06 left to seal it.
“I thought we had a great chance there to finish this off and possibly pull a comeback,” Mendenhall said. “Again, we just weren’t consistent enough to make that play.”
N.C. State: This showed N.C. State doesn’t need Finley — who passed on going to the NFL for a final college season — to be at his sharpest to win. As an example, look at Emezie’s 39-yard catch on a fleaflicker into double coverage and his 16-yard TD grab in a tight window against Brenton Nelson at the front left pylon. Finding more playmakers can only help.
ANOTHER BIG DAY
Harmon, another NFL prospect, finished with six catches for 94 yards and a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw from Finley in the fourth quarter.
Playing behind Reggie Gallaspy, Person had four runs of at least a dozen yards to help N.C. State post a season-best 176 yards rushing.
“Reggie’s going to run hard, he’s going to run through people,” Doeren said, adding: “But you still want that guy that can put his foot in the ground and change direction — and Ricky can do that.”
MORE ON ZACCHEAUS
Zaccheaus’ third 100-yard receiving day this season moved him past Kris Byrd (2008-11), Tyrone Davis (1991-94) and Germane Crowell (1994-97) into fourth on the school’s career yardage list (2,196).
N.C. State is 4-0 for the first time since doing so in 2014 and 2015. Those teams both finished 3-5 in ACC play.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are off next week and host No. 16 Miami on Oct. 13.
N.C. State: Boston College goes for its third straight win in Raleigh when it visits the Wolfpack next Saturday.
Source: The Associated Press