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    Tony Haynes: For Pack, Inches Seem Like Miles

    By Tony Haynes


    Raleigh, N.C. So three inches doesn’t really seem like much, huh? Chuck Amato might disagree. NC State’s football coach is about three inches shy of having three more wins and three fewer losses on his coaching record. Saturday’s loss to Akron was just the latest in a bizarre string of last-second defeats over which the Wolfpack has agonized the last three years.


    It all started back in 2003 when tailback T.A. McLendon fell about an inch short of what would have been a tying touchdown in the third overtime of a thriller at Ohio State. Instead of having a chance to win it with a conversion, the Pack fell to the Buckeyes, 44-38.


    One-year later, McLendon was in the mix again when he appeared to have scored what would likely have been the winning touchdown at North Carolina. But after one official signaled touchdown, another waved it off claiming that McLendon’s knee had touched the ground before the ball crossed the goal line. McLendon would then get stopped short and fumble on the next play, preserving UNC’s 30-24 triumph.


    Ironically, the same linesman who disallowed McLendon’s score in Chapel Hill was in on the action again on Saturday, raising his arms on the last play of the game after Dennis Kennedy of Akron lunged towards the end zone on what has now become a disputed touchdown, a score that gave the Zips an amazing 20-17 victory over NC State.  


    Maybe the person who once said “it’s a game of inches” was on to something.


    But whether it’s an inch or a mile, a loss is a loss in the record books and nothing will change before the Pack suits up for its first road game of the season at Southern Mississippi next Saturday.


    “We can’t dwell on it,” NC State receiver Darrell Blackman responded when asked how long it had taken him to get over Saturday’s heartbreaker against Akron. “In the end things didn’t go our way, especially in the last minute. It was heartbreaking to lose a game in that fashion after we had fought to so hard to come back and take the lead. For the rest of the day I thought about it and thought about things that could have gone differently. Sunday was the start of a new week and we’ve got to start thinking about Southern Miss.”


    In the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s one-yard touchdown run, Wolfpack players, coaches and fans waited, but to no avail, for game officials to hold up the final result while the replay official in the booth took a couple of looks at the final play. But apparently, game officials on the field weren’t contacted about holding the outcome before they scampered off to their locker room on the north end of Carter-Finley Stadium.


    All plays are reviewed at least once. If the replay official needs time for some extra looks, he will then contact officials on the field and have them stop play. But this was a little different since the play in question also happened to be the final play of the game.


    Some NC State fans then booed when a replay was shown on the replay boards at the stadium, prompting Amato to follow the officials up the tunnel.


    “I didn’t go in there after anybody,” Amato said. “I just wanted to know was that reviewed?’ I heard the reaction from people who saw it on the jumbotron.”


    Replay angles available probably wouldn’t have provided enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, although still photos that have since been published do create some doubt, showing that Kennedy’s elbow may have touched the ground before the ball actually crossed the plane of the goal line.


    Now that it’s over, however, Amato must find a way to get his team refocused and ready for its second meeting in as many years with Southern Mississippi, which rebounded from a season-opening loss at Florida by whipping Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, 45-0.


    “These youngsters are really resilient and they’re really good kids,” Amato said. “They’ve been through this. They’re good character kids. We’ve got things that have to be corrected.”


    High on Amato’s correction list are turnovers. With seven in two games, the Pack is already weighed down by a minus-five turnover margin. In taking a 7-0 first-half lead on Saturday, Akron scored in the second quarter following a fumble by tight end Anthony Hill. In the Wolfpack’s 23-10 season-opening triumph over Appalachian State, all of ASU’s points came after turnovers.


    “We’ve got to get to that point where we don’t go out there and beat ourselves,” Amato said. “That’s what happened during that run we had last season, we were not beating ourselves. We averaged six penalties per game and we pulled the turnover margin from being negative to even. In the last half of the year, we had a plus’ turnover margin.”


    And it was during that stretch that NC State went 5-1 to finish off a 7-5 season.


    The turnaround, of course, started with a comeback win over Southern Mississippi in Raleigh. Coming into the game, the Wolfpack was 2-4 and looking at yet another loss when the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the third quarter. Enter Andre Brown. Tallying the second best rushing day in NC State history, the freshman tailback rumbled for 248 yards in a 21-17 Wolfpack win.


    This week, the Pack will again try to use a game against Southern Mississippi as a stepping stone. A win could go a long way in easing the pain of another loss that literally came down to a measly little inch.


    “You can’t keep dwelling on a win or a loss from the week before because that will take your focus off the game we’ve got coming up,” said Blackman, who has a pair of touchdown receptions in two games. “Everybody has got to be thinking about what we’ve got to do for the week ahead. It’s only one loss. It’s still early in the season. Since we lost that one so early, we can’t be sitting here saying there’s pressure on us already. We can still come out and have a great season. We have the players and capability of doing it. We’ve just to go out there and cut down on the mental mistakes.”


    Injury Update: After missing the Akron game, center Luke Lathan (concussion) and cornerback A.J. Davis (hamstring) are listed as questionable for this week’s contest. Andre Brown, who injured his leg on the Pack’s first play from scrimmage on Saturday, has been cleared to practice as usual.


    B.C. Game Time: ESPN2 will show the Wolfpack’s home game against Boston College on a split national basis at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, September 24.



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