RALEIGH, N.C. – Quarterback Jameis Winston found sanctuary in a sea of red Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium – Florida State’s little house of horrors – and with the help of tailback Karlos Williams and a determined offensive line, delivered a 56-41 victory over previously-unbeaten NC State.
The top-ranked Seminoles (4-0, 2-0 ACC) overcame a wide range of maladies to post their first win at NC State since 2008 and extend their nation-leading winning streak to 20 games.
NC State hung the first 24-point first quarter on the Seminoles in the 769-game history of the program, building a 24-7 lead. The Wolfpack (4-1, 0-1) converted four Florida State turnovers into 20 points and amassed 520 total yards; the first 500-yard game by an FSU opponent since Florida in 2009 (545).
Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett passed for 359 yards and three touchdowns, completing 32 of 48 attempts while leading his team to double-digit leads on three separate occasions.
Each time, however, Winston & Co. provided a response. It wasn’t until Winston’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter – set up when freshmen defensive ends Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh collaborated on a sack and a fumble recovery – that the Seminoles had their first lead, 42-38.
Williams finished off the Wolfpack with fourth quarter touchdown runs of 1 and 12 yards, capping a career-best 126-yard performance behind a line that cleared the way for 150 yards on 21 second half carries.
“We made enough mistakes in all three phases tonight,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’re still not playing the football that we’re capable of, which at times is frustrating, but is also very encouraging. We’re finding ways to win games and we are getting better…
“To have four turnovers and win a football game on the road is tremendous.”
Back on the field for the first time since his suspension kept him out of the Clemson game, Winston completed 26 of 38 attempts for 365 yards and four touchdowns, though he was intercepted two times. Still, he was clearly exited to put the swirl of scrutiny behind him and return to action.
“The football field is a sanctuary,” Winston said. “Whenever you’re between those lines, that’s all that matters.”
While Winston eclipsed 300 yards for the ninth time in 17 starts, it was his 20-yard scramble to convert third-and-11 with 3:16 remaining and the Seminoles clinging to a 49-41 lead, which essentially sealed the game. Williams made sure of it with runs of 28, 3 and finally, 12 yards for a touchdown.
“They elected to cover for once and didn’t blitz,” Fisher said of Winston’s 20-yard run. “When [the defense] ran off, that’s the thing about him…he makes big runs when he has too. Whenever that moment comes up, certain players are able to make certain plays and he’s one of those guys.”
It took everything the Seminoles had in their arsenal to avoid a fourth loss in their last five trips to Raleigh, and the previously-maligned offensive line more than played its part.
“I’m going to be blunt, our coaches put it on us as an offensive line,” said senior left tackle Cameron Erving. “We were pushed by our coaches. It’s not perfect – far from it – but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
After trimming a 17-point deficit to 24-21 at the half, the Seminoles turned the ball over on the opening possession of the second half, which the Wolfpack converted into a touchdown on Brissett’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Matt Dayes. The Noles answered with their second of three 80-yard scoring drives; this one capped by freshman Dalvin Cook’s 19-yard touchdown up the gut. Aguayo’s point-after cut the deficit to 31-28.
A three-and-out stand by FSU’s defense went for naught when Greene, who collected 11 receptions for 125 yards, fumbled Wil Baumann’s punt to set up State at the Seminole 27. Shadrach Thornton’s 10-yard touchdown run and the point-after made it 38-28.
It would be the last 10-point deficit the Seminoles would face as Winston’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Jesus Wilson began a 28-3 scoring avalanche for the visitors.
“We were finally able to get over the hump,” Fisher said. “You find out there if you’re really confident in yourself or a whistle-by-the-graveyard guy.”
Brissett put forth his best Winston impression, leading the Wolfpack to a 24-7 first quarter lead.
The Florida transfer opened the scoring with a 54-yard touchdown pass to freshman Bo Hines on the second play of the game, then countered Winston’s 32-yard game-tying touchdown strike to Jesus Wilson, by directing NC State on a 13-play, 75-yard march.
With a mix of tailback Shadrach Thornton taking direct snaps and Brissett completing 4-of-5 pass attempts, the Wolfpack drove to the Seminole 3. Thornton capped the drive with a 3-yard run off the direct snap and Niklas Sade’s point-after put the ‘Pack up 14-7 with 6:05 remaining in the opening quarter.
FSU’s deficit grew quickly when Wolfpack defensive tackle T.Y. McGill jarred the ball loose from Winston on a four-yard sack and Monty Nelson recovered the ball at the Seminoles’ 21-yard line. A 37-yard field goal by Sade extended the State lead to 17-7.
After a three-and-out series and a 39-yard Cason Beatty punt, State set up at its own 43 and proceeded quickly to the most prolific first quarter scoring performance at the Seminoles’ expense. Brissett found tight end David Grinnage all alone for a 45-yard gain on first down.
Three plays later, Brissett broke three tackles for sack attempts, set his feet and fired an 8-yard scoring strike to Johnathan Alston for an 8-yard touchdown. Sade’s point-after pushed the ‘Pack lead to 24-7 with 2:06 remaining.
Responding to the first 24-point quarter by an opponent in the 769-game history of the program, the Seminoles’ offense came to life.
On the ensuing drive, Winston completed 6-of-7 attempts for 74 yards, highlighted by a 39-yard strike to Wilson, and Karlos Williams’ 4-yard touchdown run with 13:51 remaining in the half helped trim the deficit to 10. FSU’s defense pitched in a three-and-out series and Rashad Greene’s 20-yard punt return set up the ‘Noles at the Wolfpack 22.
Winston fired a cross-field bullet to Christian Green at the pylon and the redshirt senior found the end zone for his first career touchdown. Roberto Aguayo’s point-after with 11:58 to play cut the deficit to 24-21, which would stand until the break.