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There was hope North Carolina State would reach a level unprecedented in its football history. The 30-24 loss Saturday at Wake Forest eliminated some of the Wolfpack’s bigger goals and dropped N.C. State out of the Top 25.
N.C. State will neither win seven Atlantic Coast Conference games for the first time, nor will it finish with 10 victories overall for only the second time in program history.
The Wolfpack does have something worthy of its attention.
The North Carolina Tar Heels will meander around 30 miles east to Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday looking to spoil the Wolfpack’s senior day festivities and end a rough 2017 campaign with a signature win.
The Tar Heels are not the only one excited for the chance however.
“We are all excited to play UNC,” redshirt-junior quarterback Ryan Finley said. “It is a huge rivalry game, an in-state game, and I think everyone knows the meaning behind this game. We are all excited for that.”
North Carolina, while riding into Raleigh on a two-game winning streak, is 3-8 overall.
That is irrelevant according to N.C. State. The Wolfpack only has to revert back to last season to know that an underdog can travel to its rival and pick up a big win.
“I don’t really think it matters what their record is in this game,” N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said. “I know it didn’t for us last year when we played them.”
The joy N.C. State felt after knocking off the Tar Heels 28-21 in Chapel Hill last season to earn bowl eligibility remains vivid.
“It was an exciting time,” Finley recalled of the win that catapulted the Wolfpack into the Independence Bowl, which it won 41-17 over Vanderbilt. “It was definitely a special moment for me personally and I think for all of us.”
The Wolfpack lost the opportunities for some firsts and significant achievements with the loss Saturday at Wake Forest.
As the seniors enter the field at Carter-Finley for the final time in their college career there is still a chance to do one thing that they have never accomplished at N.C. State.
“That is the rival and our last game of the season,” senior defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “I haven’t beaten them in this stadium yet so that is definitely the motivation for this group.”
KEATTS PERFECT SO FAR
N.C. State has started its men’s basketball season 4-0. It was not exactly a brutal schedule to open up the Kevin Keatts era as head coach, but it is impossible to do better than winning every game.
The Wolfpack trailed at times, had lulls and was missing a top player, Abdul-Malik Abu, while also trying to incorporate a new style on the court.
“I think in those four games we had some adversity and were able to overcome some things,” Keatts said Monday prior to leaving for the Battle-4-Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas. “We were able to learn a lot about our team.”
One thing that is a stark contrast to previous seasons, at least early on, is N.C. State’s ability to create turnovers.
“I’m excited about the way we started. I’m very pleased with the way we’re playing on the defensive end,” Keatts said. “If you’re going to be a pressing team you better be able to turn guys over and right now we’re forcing 22.5 turnovers per game. I’m excited about that.”
Abu is working his way back from a preseason knee injury. The senior has yet to appear this season but is nearing his first appearance on the court this season.
It is unclear yet if it will be in Nassau.
“We have him back in practice and he’s had some contact,” Keatts said. “I don’t know whether I’ll play him this week or not. Right now if we had to play today I’d say no he’s not ready to play but that can change in a couple of days.
“I think he’s okay. The biggest thing is when you’ve been off as long as he has you’ve got some rust. If I had to make a decision of if I’m playing him Wednesday or Thursday I’d say no right now, but things could change.”
Whether Abu plays is not clear but what is known is the level of competition for N.C. State will increase dramatically right off the bat..
The Wolfpack will take on third-ranked Arizona in the Battle-4-Atlantis opener Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Wildcats of head coach Sean Miller are averaging 98.3 points in their three wins and have impressed Keatts.
“It gets a little more challenging and we get to play, in my opinion, the No. 1 team in the country,” Keatts said. “(They are) very good program, Sean has done a great job with their team. It will be a heck of a challenge for us.”