RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State waited nearly two months to get starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell back from a broken left foot. Yet two games into his return, the Arkansas graduate transfer is still trying to find his form.
Mitchell had a big rushing performance with 105 yards — making him the first Wolfpack quarterback to crack 100 yards in 37 years — in the 27-19 loss to rival North Carolina on Saturday. But Mitchell didn’t look sharp in the passing game and threw two interceptions, including a costly one in the fourth quarter that prompted coach Dave Doeren to go with backup Pete Thomas for a critical drive.
“It’s frustrating, but those are the cards I was dealt,” Mitchell said of missing five games. “You can’t control injuries. I just have to keep what I’m doing now. But the last two weeks, I haven’t played worth anything.”
He had the unenviable challenge of returning at No. 3 Florida State, which jumped to a 35-0 first-quarter lead. He had said he hoped that having a game under his belt would help against the Tar Heels, but he threw for 130 yards on 10-for-22 passing.
When Doeren went to Thomas late, Mitchell said he couldn’t argue with the decision.
“I need to make plays,” Mitchell said. “It was a good lesson right there. We still had a chance when Pete went in there to go win it. Plays are there to be made, but we’re just not making them.”
For the Tar Heels, freshman T.J. Logan ran for a 14-yard touchdown with 11:19 left, while Quinshad Davis had two touchdown catches. That helped UNC (3-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) win in Carter-Finley Stadium for the first time since 2005.
Davis’ second score came off a 59-yard pass from Ryan Switzer on a trick play, putting UNC ahead for good midway through the second.
Logan’s score gave the Tar Heels a cushion that ultimately held up, with A.J. Blue running for a key first down with about 2½ minutes left to help UNC drain the clock on the Wolfpack (3-5, 0-5).
Mitchell threw his second interception after Logan’s score, prompting the switch to Thomas for what amounted to the Wolfpack’s last best drive. Thomas got the Wolfpack to midfield before his fourth-down pass for Rashard Smith fell incomplete with 2:42 left.
Blue’s 10-yard run on third down moved the chains, and the Wolfpack didn’t get the ball again until there were just 13 seconds left. Mitchell’s final heave was caught well short of the end zone for the final play, sending several UNC players running to the Wolfpack’s midfield logo to celebrate before players from both teams had to be separated there.
N.C. State had won five straight meetings, its longest run since 1988-92, before last year’s wild game in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels won that one 43-35 on Gio Bernard’s oft-replayed 74-yard punt return for the go-ahead score with 13 seconds left, giving UNC coach Larry Fedora a successful debut in the long-running rivalry.
N.C. State jumped out to a 10-0 lead and had plenty of momentum, but the Tar Heels rallied — with a boost from a botched fake punt by N.C. State from its own 30 — with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns that took some of the energy out of the Wolfpack’s home crowd.
The Wolfpack led 16-14 before the Switzer-to-Davis TD throw with 9:43 left in the second quarter.
Marquise Williams threw a touchdown pass for UNC, while Bryn Renner ran for a score and played through a separated left shoulder late in the game.
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