SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Pharoah McKever returned an interception 82 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to spark North Carolina State a 24-17 victory over Syracuse, the Wolfpack’s first ACC win in nearly two years and first road win since 2010.
The Orange (3-6, 1-4) had a 14-9 lead and was deep in Wolfpack territory late in the third quarter when McKever intercepted quarterback A.J. Long’s pass at the 18 and ran down the right sideline for the game-changing score.
A shovel pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett to running back Matt Dayes on the PAT gave N.C. State (5-4, 1-4) a 17-14 lead. An 18-yard touchdown pass from Brissett to Shadrach Thornton with 2:14 to go sealed it.
The win broke a four-game losing streak and gave second-year coach Dave Doeren his first conference win after 12 losses, the longest streak in school history. The Wolfpack’s last conference win came Nov. 24, 2012 against Boston College.
The Wolfpack came out in a no-huddle offense in its first drive and it proved effective. Brissett, who was 20 of 32 for 186 yards, completed his first five passes, two of them to Bo Hines, but the drive stalled on the Syracuse 26 and the Wolfpack settled for a 43-yard field goal by Niklas Sade with 12:10 to go in the quarter. With that kick, Sade tied Mike Cofer for the N.C. State career lead in field goals with 50.
N.C. State employed some trickery on its second scoring drive. Fullback Jaylen Samuels ran for 18 yards and a first down out of punt formation from the North Carolina State 35. Again, the drive stalled and Sade kicked a 43-yard field goal with 12:10 to go in the second quarter and connected from 21 yards on the next possession made it 9-0.
Syracuse’s offense, playing with a banged-up line, was inept for much of the first half. SU’s first drive covered just 20 yards and its next three possessions were three-and-out. The Orange had just 14 yards total offense in the first quarter. N.C. State punter Wil Baumann did his part in the first half, pinning Syracuse deep in its territory-at the 2, 14 and 5-yard-lines.
SU’s offense came alive on its last possession of the first half. AJ Long, coming off a 2-of-12 passing effort against Clemson last week, led the Orange on a 12-play, 96-yard, aided by a pass interference call on cornerback Niles Clark on third- and-10 from the Syracuse 18. Long connected on a 30-yard pass to Jarrod West on third-and-3 from the Syracuse 40 and hit Steve Ishmael for 9 yards on the next play. On second-and-10, Long hit Ben Lewis at the right pylon for a 15-yard touchdown with just 15 seconds remaining to make it 9-7.
Syracuse carried its momentum into the second half, scoring on a 10-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession of the half to take a 14-9 lead. The drive was kept alive on a pass interference call against Justin Burris on third-and-12 from the Syracuse 34. Six plays later, Long hit freshman Steve Ishmael on a tumbling 25-yard touchdown pass, giving the Orange a 14-9 lead.
The turning point of the game would come several minutes later. SU got the ball with 5:40 to go in the third and marched from its own 34 to the Wolfpack 22 when disaster struck for Long and the Orange on McKever’s interception return which turned out to be the decisive play of the game.
The Wolfpack defense, 90th in the country against the run, held the Orange to just 38 yards rushing for the game.