Wooten: No albatross for Wolfpack from opener this year

RALEIGH — No stubbed toe this year.

No season-opening albatross that mars an otherwise glorious roll deep into October.

N.C. State had to scrap Saturday. James Madison is a force in the championship subdivision, the national runner-up a year ago and its champion the season before that. Eight transfers from Power 5 schools are on the roster.

Nothing was easy in the 24-13 win. Never is among title contenders, be it one from the 63-scholarship division or the only Big Four program yet to visit the ACC Championship game.

The Wolfpack had a shot last year. They’ve got a shot this year. They didn’t need another season to be dragged down by anything resembling last year’s 35-28 stumble in Charlotte to South Carolina — the Gamecocks won nine, but only Michigan in the Outback Bowl among its worthy foes finished with more than seven.

“Tonight I’m going to be happy because we’re 1-0,” head coach Dave Doeren said, never once mentioning last year’s debacle in his postgame discourse. And with good reason — it’s done. Forgotten? We’ll never know the true answer.

A year ago, the Wolfpack rose up the polls plowing through No. 12 Florida State on the road, No. 17 Louisville in a marque Thursday matchup and Pittsburgh on the road. No letdowns along the way, no trap game upsets — Syracuse between the Seminoles and Cardinals, Pitt between Louisville and No. 9 Notre Dame.

A six-game winning streak earned a No. 14 national ranking along with plenty of South Carolina “what ifs.”

On this afternoon, the Wolfpack overcame a balky opening, took in the scary silence of a player leaving the field with a neck injury and was backed a mere 16 yards from the underdogs’ end zone with a four-point lead and 6:55 to play.

Reggie Gallaspy capped that last drive, and the game, with a 6-yard run with 65 seconds left. Even more relief came when defensive lineman Eurndraus Bryant was back at the stadium from the hospital, neck X-rays negative and telling Doeren he could have played.

The offside on an opening kickoff that would have pinned the Dukes inside the 5-yard-line, a late hit out of bounds a few moments later and the season’s first red zone drive ending with a lost fumble — all of those are fixable. For a while, they were vivid reminders.

“A lot of things we could have done better,” said senior quarterback Ryan Finley. “To be in the situation we were, to have the drive we did, and then to put it in the box …”

Winning cures a lot. Always has, always will.

Finley — 29-of-43 for 309 yards and two touchdowns — will be a problem for defenses all year.

“Having a quarterback on your team who is going to play in the NFL is huge,” Doeren said. “He’s under control in everything.”

So is the team. They didn’t mention South Carolina 2017 unless it was brought up. They won’t mention anyone on their schedule unless they’re next.

Say hello to Georgia State.

“We take everybody the same,” said Larrell Muchison, the East Bladen junior defensive lineman whose first game since junior college included two tackles for loss among four overall. “We just try to be better. We don’t look at the teams on the wall — just the team we play.”

No stubbed toe this year. No season-opening albatross. There’ll be no James Madison “what ifs.”

Hello, Georgia State.

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Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.

Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.