True freshman running back Shadrach Thornton became the first NC State rusher since T.A. McLendon in 2002 to tally four 100-yard rushing games in the same season on Saturday, and he totaled 154 yards from scrimmage, including 105 on the ground.
"It's a good finish to a year that's been difficult in some respects, but they fought through everything - starting six different offensive lines and down to your fourth tailback," coach Tom O'Brien noted after the victory. "As I walked out of the locker room, Shadrach came up to me and said, 'Coach, this is my worst game ever, don't worry I'll be back for the bowl.' The kid's a great kid. He recognized a lot of things I'm really happy for him.
"They're really tough to run the football against, they always have been. They hit him pretty good, but he still ends up with 100 yards. You look at him compared to say Mustafa as a freshman - I'd say his totals are better with a lot less [carries]. In my opinion, he's probably a better back than Mustafa was as a freshman. That's positive going forward."
After the game, Thornton's offensive line marveled what he has accomplished this year, which includes three-straight 100-yard outings. The rookie has totaled 655 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, in addition to 234 receiving yards, and The Wolfpacker's unofficial count has him being tackle for a loss just five times on 142 carries.
"The last three weeks now for Shadrach, that's big for our offense, especially the offensive line," redshirt senior guard R,J.Mattes said. "He's a phenomenal player, for a true freshman to do that, I wish I could be here all of the next three years with him. He's going to be a great one for NC State. He runs hard, runs downhill, always gets that extra yard. You look at him and he'll be stopped in the backfield, but he'll fall forward for five yards. I love blocking for the kid, I look forward to watching him in his future career here at NC State."
"Shad brings immense energy," senior center Camden Wentz added. "He runs so hard and he's excited to be out there every time. That's something you look for in a running back. He has a bright future ahead and I look forward to, down the road, looking back and seeing how good he is doing.
"The OL is really graded on how well you run block. For us to get him these past few weeks constantly over the 100-yard mark is big for us, as a unit and our offense."
Thornton rebounded from an early fumble that ended the team's first drive, and he wasn't pleased with his personal results despite receiving praise from nearly everybody else. As O'Brien noted, he even called Saturday his worst game in college.
"It felt like that, it really did because I missed some holes, I missed some reads, I need to get more north," he explained. "I just felt like I killed myself out there, yardage-wise, I hate leaving yards on the field and I'm pretty sure I left a bunch of yards out there. I don't care if it's one yard, if I leave it on the field, it's killing me, so I just have to get better throughout the practices and make sure it doesn't happen again.
"I feel like I could've done way more damage on the ground. There were some holes I missed, not using my eyes; not staying on my feet, I need to keep my chest over my knees and make better cuts. Had I done that...there are some runs that are just replaying in my head over and over where if I had hit the hole, there's a good chance it would've went to the house."
Much to the offensive line's delight, Thornton has treated his protectors to doughnuts and then chocolate-chip cookies after his back-to-back 100-yard games. He said he's thinking about thinking about baking the big men a cake this week with a goodbye written to the seniors, who he is proud to note were sent off with a win.
"Knowing that we need to get this win, knowing that this is my seniors' last game after they have put in so much work all this year - it just can't go down the drain with a loss," he said. "I could've run it 100 times if they wanted me to because I was feeding off them."
"[I played for them] the entire game," he said. "I knew they would kill to be out there tonight to fight against BC with us, but they couldn't. They were definitely there in spirit. I can't stress it enough, it was all for them."
Seniors leave with another winning season, foundation for more
Players noted all week it was important to ensure a winning season for the Pack and get that seventh win to put themselves in the best bowl position possible. They ensured that with the 27-10 victory on Senior Day with several players in their last year of eligibility, including eight starters, making key plays.
"Coach O'Brien said we won 24 games, possibly 25 with the bowl game, that's a big four years here at NC State," starting guard R.J. Mattes noted. "I wish we could've gotten a championship for us, that was our goal when Mike and I came here. The reason I came here was to block for a quarterback like Mike Glennon and win championships. We came up short on that, but we had a lot of wins when I was here and we played in four bowl games while I was here, so that's always big. It was a fun career here at NC State, and I hate to say good bye to it, but you've got to move on eventually.
"I'm glad we got the 'W,' you'll always remember your last one and I'll always remember this for the rest of my life. Coach O'Brien preached it all week, we don't want to end 6-6, that's awful. 7-5, possibly going 8-5, is a good year to build on for next year's seniors. Hopefully, they continue to build, we get a good game in the bowl game and win that, too."
Fifth-year safety Earl Wolff did everything in his will to win his final game at Carter-Finley Stadium, and his teammates returned the favor to honor their three classmates who missed the game with injury.
"Before the game, I walked up to everybody and said, 'I promised you, I'm going to give you everything I've got on every single play, I just ask that you all do the same.' I feel like everybody did that and we came out with a victory.
"I knew I had to give it all for him, James and Brian. I knew if they could be out there, they would be out there, giving it their all on every single play."
O'Brien noted after the game that the team is hopeful that redshirt sophomore running back Tony Creecy and senior defensive end Brian Slay can return from injury for the bowl game.