NC State football coach focuses on UNC game after tough week

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N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren looks up at the scoreboard after Boston College’s touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter during Boston College’s 21-20 victory over N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.

ehyman@newsobserver.com

College football coaches are well-paid, especially at the highest level, and that includes N.C. State’s Dave Doeren. They’re judged on how they run their programs, how well they prepare their teams and how many games they win and lose.

But some seasons are more challenging than others, at any level. Some weeks in those seasons are more challenging than others.

Doeren said Monday that the week between the Pack’s games against Boston College and Louisville might have been the most challenging he has had as coach.

“Outside of the Covid year (2020), where it was tough for everybody to be head coach, this last week was the hardest of my career,” he said during his weekly news conference.

Doeren and the Pack were left steaming after a 21-20 loss to BC that hinged on a pass-interference call against linebacker Drake Thomas in the final seconds. They were left sad and somber a day later when it was learned three Virginia football players had been shot and killed by a former player in Charlottesville, Virginia — another senseless tragedy that affected so many.

There were injuries after the BC game that Doeren realized could affect the Pack’s performance and execution — and did — at Louisville on Saturday. The Wolfpack lost the road game 25-10 as quarterback MJ Morris, center Grant Gibson and others were sidelined and a player who had been on the scout team almost the entire season, Ben Finley, was needed at quarterback.

But Doeren also had to deal with a threat from a former Wolfpack player, Joseph Boletepeli, who was charged last week with stalking Doeren, using social media and text messages to communicate threats. Boletepeli, 22, also resisted police while being arrested and being handcuffed.

“On Monday, there were the threats that were made, and how that took time away from my life and the stress that put on my life,” Doeren said. “There was a lot going on, man, a lot more than just coaching football last week for me. That’s not an excuse, it’s the reality, so I’m proud of our players and our staff for rallying and fighting and scraping.”

On a cold, windy day at Cardinal Stadium, Louisville held a 16-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. After the Pack came up just short of a first down on a Jordan Houston third-down run, Doeren decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the NCSU 45 rather than punt.

Finley went under center, posing the possibility of a quarterback sneak, then pitched the ball to running back Michael Allen. But Louisville linebacker MoMo Sanogo beat his block and blew up the play, dropping Allen for no gain. The Cardinals, with a short field, followed up by scoring a touchdown — the only TD allowed by the Pack defense — for a 22-10 lead.

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North Carolina State quarterback Ben Finley (10) is brought down by Louisville linebacker Yasir Abdullah (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Timothy D. Easley AP

“We were in that game and had a chance to win it and just didn’t get it done,” Doeren said. “But I’m happy to be into the next week and a new day and thankful that I have one, that I have the people I’m with and an opportunity to coach another game with a great group of guys.”

The Pack (7-4, 3-4 ACC) goes to North Carolina for a Friday game against its biggest rival. The Tar Heels (9-2, 6-1) have won the Coastal Division but were left sour after an upset loss Saturday against Georgia Tech.

“Georgia Tech made more plays in the second half. That’s football,” Doeren said. “You go to the other games, UNC made more plays. It comes down to making plays and finishing plays. Regardless of what we do as coaches, it’s going to come down to the dudes on the field getting it done and making the plays and being fundamentally sound and playing harder and longer than the dude across from him.”

The Pack wants to avoid a three-game losing streak to end a disappointing regular season and give Doeren his sixth win against UNC in his 10th year as coach.

“Rivalry games are personal games to the guys,” Doeren said. “We’re missing a lot of players and we have to go out and play fundamentally sound and we’ve got to make up for what we’re missing with our execution and detail and our strain. Regardless of how much we dislike our opponent it’s going to come down to that.

“We’re going to have to really, really play well and I think we can play well. That’s why I’m excited. Let’s accept the challenge and go out there and go after it.”

Doeren did not update the status of any of his injured players. NCSU’s depth chart, released later Monday, had Morris listed as the No. 1 quarterback and Finley the backup. Gibson, a team captain, was not on the depth chart.

“When I think about this season there’s a lot of things we wanted to happen that didn’t,” Doeren said. “But we were ranked for 12 straight weeks. I get to coach Grant Gibson and Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas and on and on and on, a bunch of awesome human beings. Tanner Ingle, Chris Dunn, you name them, it just keeps going. And to be with the staff that I’m on.

“Now we have a chance to go play a real good team one more time before the bowl game. But I’ll remember the relationships more than anything and last week was a tough week for sure, but I believe that God doesn’t put things in our path that we can’t handle and everything that we go through is a test and at the end of it you’re a better human being and a stronger person for enduring.”

NC State at North Carolina football game

When: Friday. 3:30 p.m.

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

TV: ABC

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.

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