Memorable NC State Football Season Openers

Brett Friedlander

NC State begins its 2020 football season on Saturday when it takes on Wake Forest at Carter-Finley Stadium.

It's a game that will be played in a surreal environment, with only about 350 Wolfpack and Deacons parents the only fans not made of cardboard allowed in the stands to watch the game in person.

As strange as the circumstances might be thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it's not the first time State has begun a season in an unusual or memorable fashion. There have also been some unforgettable games and performances. 

Here's a look at some of the others:

Sept. 16, 1967: The Wolfpack beat rival North Carolina 13-7 in the first game in what is still the only doubleheader in ACC football history.

Yes, you read that right. Doubleheader.

Because of what was described as a "scheduling snafu," Duke and Wake Forest also played one another on the same day on the same Carter-Finley field. 

State played the afternoon game and won on the strength of a 55-yard pass from Jim Donnan to Harry Martel. The game was also notable in that it marked the debut of the Wolfpack's famed White Shoes Defense and was the first of eight straight victories to start the season.

Duke beat Wake 31-13 later that evening in what was the first college night game played at the newly built stadium.

White shoes defense
NC State's famed White Shoes DefenseNC State athletics photo

Sept. 5, 1987: The game itself wasn't one to write home about, at least from a State persoective. East Carolina beat the Wolfpack 32-14. But what made this game so memorable is what happened afterward.

Excited over their victory against an in-state rival, Pirates fans in attendance at Carter-Finley stormed the field, taking out a chain link fence before tearing down both goal posts and causing damage to the field.

Jim Valvano, who was State's athletic director at the time, was so angry over the incident that he abruptly canceled all future games against ECU. it wasn't until 1996 that the teams met again during the regular season (although they did play in the 1992 Peach Bowl) and 1997 before the Pirates were welcomed back to Carter-Finley.

Sept. 1, 1990: The Wolfpack took no prisoners against Western Carolina to begin the 1990 season. Not only did State beat the Catamounts 67-0, scoring the most points in the history of the stadium, but it also recorded two safeties while going the entire game without allowing WCU a single first down.

According to the 2019 NCAA Division I record book, it is still the most recent instance in which an FBS defense did not allow its opponent to gain a first down.

Sept. 4, 1999: You could say the Wolfpack jumped into the 1999 season by storm, literally, since its first game was played in a torrential downpour caused by Hurricane Dennis. 

More than three inches of rain turned the playing surface at Carter-Finley into a muddy mess, causing former State coach Lou Holtz -- who was making his debut at South Carolina -- to go through seven rain jackets during the course of the game. 

His efforts to stay dry were as futile as his Gamecocks' attempt to hold onto the football.. They fumbled eight times. The Wolfpack wasn't much better, gaining only 96 yards of total offense. And yet State still won the game 10-0, thanks to a fourth quarter blocked punt by Brian Williams that Koren Robinson recovered for a touchdown.

Sept 2, 2000: In one of the most significant games in recent State history, quarterback Philip Rivers made his Wolfpack debut. In a rainstorm that rivaled the one of a year earlier with a national television audience watching on a Thursday night, the true freshman led his team from a 13-point second half deficit to beat Arkansas State in double overtime.

Rivers completed the comeback with a game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to Robinson. And a legend was born.

Aug. 30, 2014: Under circumstances remotely similar to this year's opener, State came into its game against Georgia Southern on a long losing streak from the previous season. The Wolfpack had lost its final eight games in coach Dave Doeren's first season of 2013 and were in danger of starting the new campaign off with another defeat against an FCS opponent.

But after falling behind early, trailing 17-3 at halftime and spending the entire afternoon playing from behing, transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett hit Matt Dayes with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 1:37 remaining to give the Wolfpack its first lead of the game to escape with a 24-23 victory.

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