RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State got the fast start it needed against No. 3 Clemson and even led late in the opening half.
One three-play sequence changed everything.
A missed field goal for the Wolfpack followed by a two-play, lightning-strike touchdown drive from the Tigers put them ahead for good on the way to a 56-41 win. It was the most glaring defensive stumble on a night when N.C. State just couldn’t stop the Tigers or quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“Our offense did their job,” Wolfpack safety Hakim Jones said. “They scored 41 points. Any time you score 41 points on offense, you’re supposed to win that game.”
N.C. State led 20-19 when freshman Kyle Bambard missed a 44-yard field goal with 55 seconds left in the half. The Tigers pounced, with Watson finding Artavis Scott for a 31-yard pass then going deep to Charone Peake for a 42-yard touchdown to cap a 15-second drive.
“It was a pretty bad thing,” Wolfpack defensive end Mike Rose said. “You never want to give up a touchdown with less than a minute.”
Watson threw for 383 yards and five scores, and also ran for 54 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who are closing in on an appearance in the ACC championship game and chasing a College Football Playoff berth.
The Tigers host No. 17 Florida State next week with a chance to wrap up the ACC’s Atlantic Division title.
Wayne Gallman ran for 172 yards and a touchdown for Clemson, which finished with 623 total yards against the Wolfpack — who came in with the nation’s No. 3-ranked total defense (251 yards).
It wasn’t perfect for Clemson, with N.C. State (5-3, 1-3) breaking off a few big plays and turning the game into a shootout while playing from behind. But the Tigers were never seriously threatened in the final 20 minutes, leading by 20 to an 11th straight victory dating to last season.
It also marked Clemson’s 36th straight win against teams unranked in the AP Top 25, the last loss coming at the Wolfpack in 2011.
Jacoby Brissett threw for three touchdowns and ran for one, while Jaylen Samuels also ran for a score for the Wolfpack. Freshman Nyheim Hines had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a wild opening 5 minutes that saw both teams score twice and even block a PAT.
But N.C. State played the second half without top rusher Matt Dayes due to what coach Dave Doeren described as a toe injury.
By the time Watson found Zac Brooks for a 35-yard TD late in the third, Clemson’s lead had grown to 47-27.
And by the end, N.C. State had lost by the same score as the last time it hosted a top-five opponent: top-ranked Florida State and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston last season.