Skip to main content

There's always going to be some nerves going into the first game of a new season, especially with a team that has as many unknowns as NC State.

But for Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren, there was a confident sense of calm.

It was a feeling he got from watching his new quarterback Matthew McKay grow as a leader after being named the team's starter earlier in the week. The redshirt sophomore, who had seen only mopup duty behind NFL draft pick Ryan Finley last year, played like a seasoned veteran in the first real playing time of his college career Saturday.

He threw for 308 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores to lead State to a 34-6 beatdown of East Carolina on a scorching hot afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium.

"As practice went on throughout the week, you could see him getting more and more confident," Doeren said of McKay. "On Thursday, he had his best practice that I've seen since he's been here.

"I told the guys 'if he throws like that, we're good Saturday,' because he was throwing dimes. He was very confident. He was very calm. He prepared the right way for this football game."

Playing behind an offensive line that gave him time to throw and didn't allow a sack despite rotating numerous players in and out of the lineup because of the heat, McKay did a good job of spreading the ball around -- especially on short to medium range routes.

Junior Emeka Emezie, wearing the No. 3 of former star Kelvin Harmon, caught seven balls while sophomore Thayer Thomas had six and Tabari Hines, a graduate transfer who started his career at Wake Forest had four, to go along with a 48-yard run on a jet sweep.

In all, 10 different players caught passes while three backs shared the bulk of he carries in the running game to highlight a performance that was as good a starting point as Doeren and his staff could possibly have drawn up.

"The first play I went out there, I took a deep breath and said 'okay, we're playing football.' So I wasn't nervous or anything," McKay said. "I was definitely prepared for the moment."

As well as McKay and the rest of the Wolfpack played, there were still plenty of rough edges to smooth out.  

State was just 4 of 12 on third down, for instance, and came up short trying to convert a fourth-and-two situation near midfield early in the game. 

There were several other glaring mistakes as well, but it managed to get away with most of them thanks to a little opening day luck.

When an interception by Brock Miller was nullified by a hands to the face penalty in the backfield, Chris Ingram simply picked off another pass two plays later. When ECU's Tyler Snead broke free for a 90-plus yard kickoff return, it was called back by an illegal block infraction.

State also had a targeting call on Tanner Ingle reversed upon review. The two biggest breaks, however, came on fumbles.

The first was caused Ingle and recovered in the end zone by Jarius Morehead just when it seemed as though quarterback Holton Ahlers was about to lead ECU to a touchdown on the game's opening possession.

State then took the ball right back down the field, driving 80 yards on six plays, with freshman Zonovan "Bam" Knight take it in for a score on his first career carry.

"That was big," Morehead said of the early turnover. "It doesn't matter how you do it, just keep them out of the end zone. We did that and it kind of got us going."

It took until just before halftime for the offense to do the same. And coincidentally, the springboard was also a fumble.

This one was was by McKay, who had he ball jarred loose inside he five on his way in for a score. He was saved by his first-time starting left tackle Emanuel McGirt, who alertly fell on the fumble the Wolfpack a second chance.

McKay made the most of it by pushing a pile of blockers and defenders over the goal line on the next play for a 17-3 lead that only increased as the game went on.

"A lot of good things happened today," Doeren said. "We've got to clean up some things, obviously, but a lot of positives. ... We're 1-0. Half the teams in the country are not. It's good to be on that side of the ledger."