RALEIGH, N.C. — Clemson’s final pass had barely hit the ground when North Carolina State’s sideline began charging toward the field to celebrate, followed closely by red-clad Wolfpack fans pouring in to join them from all directions.
The Wolfpack's long run of frustration in these marquee games is over. And the ninth-ranked Tigers' shot of returning to the College Football Playoff could be, too.
N.C. State forced D.J. Uiagalelei into a fourth-down incompletion to seal a 27-21 double-overtime win against the Tigers on Saturday. It’s an outcome that shakes up the Atlantic Coast Conference race while also dealing a huge blow to the Tigers’ playoff hopes in the long term behind yet another woeful offensive performance to start the year.
N.C. State (3-1, 1-0 ACC) had lost eight straight and 15 of 16 meetings to the Tigers, which included at least one painfully close loss that fueled a bit of Murphy's Law-level pessimism — locals know it by an expletive-featuring nickname — among Wolfpack fans.
No more, at least not for ninth-year coach Dave Doeren after his first win against a top-10 team.
Devin Leary threw for four touchdowns, including the winning 22-yard pass to Devin Carter — who made a twisting adjustment to the back-shoulder throw and got both knees down inside the back right corner of the end zone for the lead to start the second OT.
Then Uiagagelei slightly overthrew Justyn Ross near the goal line on fourth down to start the celebration of N.C. State's first win in the series since 2011.
“I kind of caught with everyone storming the field,” Leary said. “I was looking for my mom, looking for my dad. I eventually got to them, they were still in the crowd. But the first person I was able to hug and just celebrate with was Coach Doeren.”
It was a brutal day for the Tigers (2-2, 1-1), who now have a second loss to make it an unlikely climb to extend their streak of making every year of the playoff since the first edition in 2014.
It also is a big setback in the Atlantic Division for the six-time league champions, while injuries mounted with linebacker James Skalski, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, and running back Will Shipley being knocked from the game.
The Tigers had 214 total yards, with Uiagalelei throwing for 111 yards and two scores.
“The criticism is warranted because that’s where we are right now,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of the offensive struggles. “That’s what we displayed. With the way we’ve performed, you’re going to get criticism and you’re going to get comments and things like that.
“You know what? That comes with the territory because the expectation and the standard at Clemson and who we are, we’re not meeting it. It’s just that simple.”