RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State is back on track and the Wolfpack have a clear path toward a strong finish to the regular season in the ACC.
But Wake Forest is in danger of falling off to the side for good as it hits Tobacco Road in a must-win situation.
The teams meet Thursday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“We need to play the way we played (against Florida State),” said N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, whose team snapped a two-game skid with a 47-28 victory over the Seminoles last week. “We played fast, were aggressive, didn’t beat ourselves.”
Those are reasons the No. 14 Wolfpack (6-2, 3-2 ACC) are feeling good again.
N.C. State is out of contention for a spot in the ACC championship game, but could grab a share of first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division if it wins out and No. 2 Clemson stumbles a couple times and No. 17 Boston College upsets Clemson and then loses one of its final two games.
It shakes out well for the Wolfpack as it takes on the ACC teams with the three worst records to close the conference portion of its schedule.
Plus, speedy running back Ricky Person was back in action last week, scoring three touchdowns. He provides a nice complement to running back Reggie Gallaspy.
“Reggie is running over people and Ricky is putting his foot on the ground, cutting and bouncing,” Doeren said. “That change of pace helps and it keeps those two guys fresh.”
Wake Forest (4-5, 1-4) has lost three of its past four games. Then after Saturday’s loss to Syracuse, it was revealed the next day that freshman quarterback Sam Hartman will miss the remainder of the regular season with a leg injury.
That means redshirt sophomore Jamie Newman could be in line for his first career start. It’s possible that Kendall Hinton could be available as he’s a former starting quarterback from past seasons, but he wasn’t in uniform for the Syracuse game because of a hip flexor injury sustained in practice.
N.C. State will be paying attention to the Demon Deacons’ quarterback situation.
“There will be some adjustment, obviously,” Doeren said. “It will be a short week, so it will be hard for them to change too much. You can’t re-invent the wheel.”
So it’s a difficult time for Wake Forest to deal with a quick turnaround.
“We have no depth,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “When the snap counts get into the 60s in the third quarter, it’s patch work.”
There will be no postseason for the Demon Deacons if they don’t win two of their last three regular-season games.
“We’ve got three games and we have to get two of them for the seniors on the team,” Wake Forest junior linebacker Justin Strnad said.
The desperation is sinking in for Wake Forest.
“It’s three games left, it’s how bad do you want it?” senior running back Matt Colburn said.
Wake Forest will have receiver/return specialist Greg Dortch available after he missed last year’s game against the Wolfpack.
N.C. State could have defensive tackles Eurndraus Bryant and Shug Frazier back for the Wake Forest game after they sat out last week with undisclosed injuries.
Wake Forest pulled an upset of a nationally ranked N.C. State team last year. The Demon Deacons have at least one victory against a ranked team in each of the past two seasons, but this might be the final shot this year after going 0-3 — all at home — in such situations this year.
This is Wake Forest’s third Thursday night game of the season, defeating Tulane in overtime and losing to Boston College in the others.
“We have no time (to sulk),” Strnad said. “Playing on (Thursday) is challenging. We play a (sport) that is physically and mentally taxing and we’ve got to get to work.”
It’s Senior Night for N.C. State, which has won the last five meetings in Raleigh against Wake Forest. This was the final home game on the original schedule. After a September cancellation against West Virginia, a home game was added for Dec. 1 against East Carolina.