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NC State hosts Wake Forest in Wolfpack’s delayed debut

By Aaron Beard, AP Sports Writer

North Carolina State spent a week watching other Atlantic Coast Conference teams play after having its original opening game postponed amid coronavirus clusters involving Wolfpack athletes and elsewhere on campus.

Coach Dave Doeren’s squad finally gets its turn to play on Saturday night when instate foe Wake Forest visits the Wolfpack.

“I think we’re starving for a routine,” Doeren said. “And so this allows us hopefully to have one, just to get into gameweek and know that we have an opportunity to back-to-back similar weeks as we move forward. Because we’ve had the opposite. Every day has really been a day where change could happen.”

N.C. State had to pause all sports activities Aug. 24 due to a cluster tied to athletics, with the football program not returning to practice for a week. By then, N.C. State had postponed the scheduled opener at Virginia Tech for two weeks to Sept. 26.

That turned Saturday’s visit from the Demon Deacons (0-1, 0-1 ACC) into the new opening game in a long-running series that has been played every year dating to 1910. It’ll be the first chance for the Wolfpack to show improvement from a four-win season after being picked to finish 11th in the 15-team league race.

“I just feel like we have . . . a lot of people talking down on us after last season, a lot of people not expecting much from us,” offensive guard Ikem Ekwonu said. “I feel like now more than ever, we’re a prideful team. We have pride in ourselves. And we have confidence in ourselves.”

For Wake Forest, the goal will be to move forward after a 37-13 loss to top-ranked Clemson and go for a fourth straight win in the series.

“We did some things in that game (against Clemson) that wouldn’t allow us to beat anybody we play,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “And as a coach, my focus is in fixing those problems. So when we play N.C. State, if we’re going to lose, let’s have N.C. State beat us, let’s not have Wake Forest beat Wake Forest.”

Some other things to know about Saturday’s Wake Forest-N.C. State game:

NO FANS

N.C. State’s home game will come in a largely empty Carter-Finley Stadium amid state and county health guidelines limiting mass gatherings.

Athletics spokesman Fred Demarest said the team had been allotted 50 tickets to distribute among players for family members to attend within health guidelines. Additionally Thursday, a group of N.C. State parents sent a petition to Gov. Roy Cooper seeking to have an exception made to allow all parents or family members to attend.

Wake Forest, along with fellow instate ACC school North Carolina, had opened in essentially empty stadiums. Tar Heels coach Mack Brown has also publicly lobbied for an exception to allow players’ family members to attend games.

KICKING QUESTIONS

Preseason All-ACC kicker Nick Sciba had a bumpy start to the season for the Demon Deacons by making 2 of 4 field goals against Clemson after missing just one all last season. That comes with the Demon Deacons having a new snapper and holder.

“He’s just got to learn to trust the new operation,” Clawson said.

NEW OFFENSE

This will be the first look at the Wolfpack’s new offense under coach Tim Beck, who had plenty of obstacles installing a new scheme as Devin Leary begins a second year as starting quarterback. That’s because the Wolfpack got in just five spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic shut down college and professional sports, followed by the interrupted preseason camp.

“We did have some setbacks obviously with the virus, but I feel like our players have been pretty resilient,” Beck said.

DEACONS’ ROLL

Wake Forest has won the past three meetings, two coming on dramatic finishes. Wake Forest won 30-24 in 2017 when Wolfpack receiver Emeka Emezie lost a fumble at the goalline with 1:51 left. Two years ago, Wake Forest ended a five-game skid in Raleigh by scoring the winning touchdown with 30 seconds left.

Last year, a nationally ranked Wake Forest team beat N.C. State 44-10 at home in Leary’s first start at QB as a redshirt freshman.

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