JACKSONVILLE, FLA – No. 23 NC State finished one of the most unique seasons In school history on Saturday, falling 21-23 to Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. The Wolfpack finished with an 8-4 record.
Following the game, head coach Dave Doeren was disappointed with the outcome, but excited about the future of his program. “I love these guys – the players the coaches the staff,” said Doeren. “We went through a lot this year. We stuck together and we grew a lot together. We learned a lot from each other. We’ve had guys step up throughout the season.
“I love this football team and I’m excited about the guys who are coming back. There are a lot of positives we can take out of this season.”
Kentucky took the opening kick and drove the ball for nine minutes – finishing with a 25-yard Matt Ruffolo field goal after a big Jakeen Harris stop on third down. Just 90 seconds into the Pack’s ensuing drive, QB Bailey Hockman threw an interception to give the Wildcats the ball back at the 50, but the defense held tough, stopping Kentucky on fourth down.
After trading punts, a four-yard Chris Rodriquez touchdown run capped off a six-play, 79 yard drive. After getting the ball back, the Wolfpack moved the ball 52 yards in five minutes, but Christopher Dunn’s 40-yard FG attempt was partially blocked.
Kentucky added another field goal before the half to go up 13-0. It marked the first time all season that NC State went scoreless in a half scored in a half – the Pack came out strong in the third quarter.
NC State took the second half kickoff into Wildcat territory on an 11-play drive, but Dunn uncharacteristically missed a second FG – this one a 43-yarder. After the Pack defense forced another UK punt, the offense got it going and Hockman hit C.J. Riley for a nine-yard score and Dunn added the extra point to tighten the score at 13-7.
The defense forced punts on Kentucky’s next two possessions, before Hockman threw his second pick of the day to give the Wildcats the ball at the State 42. Seven plays later, Ruffolo added his third FG of the day – a 20-yarder.
Kentucky was called for a pair of unsportsmanlike calls on the kickoff return and after Hockman fired a 21-yard strike to Thayer Thomas, a roughing the passer call gave the Pack 1st and goal at the eight. A play later, Zonovan Knight rumbled in for a 13-yard touchdown – marking the sixth straight game that he’s hit paydirt.
The defense forced a three and out on the next UK drive, but a third Hockman pick gave the Wildcats the ball back and on the next play, the Wildcats scored again to go up 23-14.
The Wolfpack kept fighting, driving 65 yards before Jordan Houston scored from the two to bring the score to 21-23 with 1:10 remaining, but Kentucky gathered in the onsides kick to seal the win.
The Wolfpack played the game without two of its top four tacklers, as linebackers Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas were unavailable due to injury. Starting center Grant Gibson – who had not missed a single snap on offense all season – was injured on the Pack’s third quarter touchdown and did not return.
• QB Bailey Hockman
27-40 passing for 268 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs
• RB Zonovan Knight (named NC State’s MVP by the bowl)
12-52 rushing, 1 TD
• WR Emeka Emezie
• FS Isaac Duffy
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