RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Devin Leary threw two touchdown passes in a 26-second span, with No. 24 North Carolina State recovering an onside kick in between, to stun North Carolina 34-30 on Friday night and remain alive in the ACC Atlantic Division title chase.
With N.C. State down 30-21, Leary found Emeka Emezie on a busted coverage for a 64-yard touchdown strike with 1:33 left. The Wolfpack recovered the onside kick, then Leary threw a 24-yard sideline pass to Emezie with 1:09 remaining.
N.C. State (9-3, 6-2) beat North Carolina (6-6, 3-5) for the first time since 2018 to remain in contention for a trip to the conference championship game. It also officially eliminated six-time reigning league champion Clemson from the Atlantic Division race.
The Wolfpack would reach the title game if No. 21 Wake Forest loses at Boston College on Saturday, creating a three-way tie atop the division that would favor N.C. State by virtue of its division record and head-to-head win over Clemson.
Leary finished with 247 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Sam Howell had three total touchdowns for North Carolina, and running back British Brooks ran for 124 yards for North Carolina .
N.C. State: The rivalry has rarely been about more than local pride, but the conference implications for the Wolfpack meant an added layer of intrigue for this 2021 iteration.
The Wolfpack jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter but looked dead for much of the night, managing just seven points in the second and third quarters; two touchdowns in 26 seconds changed all that.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels, bowl eligible as of last week, had nothing to play for Friday night except bragging rights — and the chance to play spoiler.
Though Howell, who missed last week’s game against Wofford with an upper-body injury, seemed to be running for his life all night, he managed to run for two scores and keep drives alive with his legs.
A pair of late collapses, however — the busted coverage on Emezie, and the botched onside recovery — proved costly.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack will be locked in on Wake Forest’s noon matchup against Boston College, with a Demon Deacons loss sending N.C. State to its first ACC championship game.
North Carolina: Await bowl fate.