Going into to last Thursday night’s game against Georgia Tech, I thought “well N.C. State isn’t a great team or even a very good team but they are better than Georgia Tech and should win, no matter how ugly.” Boy, was I wrong! I won’t sit here and rehash how GT was up 7-0 three plays into the game or how N.C. State allowed James Graham to throw for 3 TDs in the first half, equaling his TD total in the previous five homes games (insert face palm emoji here) or that State called a wildcat play on 4th down at the GT 10 which went for negative years or that the Yellow Jackets rushed for 266 yards. No, not I. I won’t touch on any of that. Instead, I’ll choose to look ahead to this Saturday’s game against UNC and how with a win N.C. State can put a band-aid on their season.
N.C. State has nothing to left to play for other than to be a spoiler, recruiting purposes and pride. At 4-7, the Wolfpack can’t make a bowl in 2019 but they can prevent the Tarheels from achieving that goal. The Tarheels have not been bowl eligible since 2016 and haven’t won a bowl game since defeating Cincinnati in the 2013 Belk Bowl. This State team, which has been down and out for the last month and a half, would love nothing more than to be the ones to cause the Tarheels bowl-less streak to continue.
Carolina and State are only 25 miles apart from one another, so while bragging rights remain a top priority for fans in such close proximity to one another, recruiting in the Triangle is the primary focus of both schools. And as everyone knows, an easy way to get a leg up on recruiting is by consistently beating your closest competitor. State has won four out of the last five and since 2000, N.C. State is 12-7 versus the Tarheels. Now, don’t get me wrong on-field victories do not always translate to the better national recruiting ranking but what they have done for the Wolfpack is to be able to recruit and land local talent that can be developed to fit State’s scheme. Making a statement and getting victory over the Heels, especially in a down year, goes a long way with local recruits. N.C. State needs to go out on Saturday night and assert that they are the better team in state of North Carolina, because while this game has short term ramifications there are also long-term impacts which will shape this rivalry for years to come.
Lastly, there is one other thing that the Pack will be playing for. That my friends is pride. Throw out the records, throw out the bowl implications, throw out all logic. Rivalry games don’t follow conventional wisdom. Funny things often happen in rivalry games and a large part of that is due to each team playing solely for the pride of beating the other team. When a team is faced with the reality of knowing that if they lose to their most hated rival, they will not only be reminded of it for the rest of that day but for 365 days until those teams meet again. Each team’s pride is pushed to the brink in these types of games. N.C. State and North Carolina is no different than any other heated rivalry. It’s passionate, fiery and full of pride Yes, there might not be national titles on the line like in the Iron Bowl or Bedlam but this is a heated rivalry that divides parents and children or even spouses.
Saturday night will be the next chapter in this rivalry that goes back decades and who knows there might be another moment that sticks with a fan base for years. I don’t need to remind either fanbase as to where they were in 2004 when State’s T.A. McClendon was stopped at the one-yard line (even though he was really in) to give the Tarheels the win as time expired or the time in 2009 when T.J. Yates threw a last second interception to Clem Johnson to seal the 28-27 win for the Wolfpack. And long before Myles Garrett, Mason Rudolph and helmet-gate came along, there was the famed helmet swing during the 1993 brawl on the sidelines of Carter-Finley.
Carolina wants to be bowl eligible once again to try and recapture that Mack Brown magic from long ago and would love nothing more than to do that by beating N.C. State. State has had a very disappointing 2019 and while beating Carolina won’t save their season it will however put a nice big band-aid on some of the wounds from the season that could have been. So, Saturday night at 7:30pm get your favorite beverage, a snack and get ready to watch that latest installment of this great rivalry.