RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State's offense sputtered, then lost the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year while facing a second-half deficit.
For Devan Boykin, that meant the defense would have to drive the 14th-ranked Wolfpack to its comeback Saturday night.
“After halftime," he said, "we knew that the game was going to be on us.”
Boykin picked off Jordan Travis’ pass in the end zone with 38 seconds left, lifting N.C. State past Florida State 19-17 despite losing quarterback Devin Leary to injury.
Boykin’s clean catch in the end zone was the clinching play on a big — and gritty — performance by the Wolfpack’s veteran defense after halftime. N.C. State held Florida State (4-2, 2-2) to 93 yards after the break, helping the Wolfpack rally from a 17-3 halftime deficit.
Christopher Dunn also kicked four field goals, including a 53-yarder early in the fourth and the go-ahead 27-yard score with 6:33 left.
The Wolfpack needed every bit of it, too, considering how daunting things looked when Leary went down late in the third. He was hit while trying to throw and suffered an injury to his right arm or shoulder, returning later to the sideline with his arm in a sling. That forced backup Jack Chambers into duty for an offense that was fighting for most of its gains even with Leary in the game.
“This team doesn't quit," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “They don't flinch.”
Travis and the Seminoles found success before halftime with multiple chunk gains, including a 71-yard keeper by Travis that set up a quick touchdown drive.
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But Travis threw interceptions on each of the Seminoles' last two drives, one into traffic near midfield with about 6 1/2 minutes left and the other when he lofted the ball for Mycah Pittman after the Seminoles had driven to the 23 needing a field goal for the lead.
“We made a lot of mistakes there in the second half that we've got to be able to overcome,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said. “And it's everybody. I just told the team: that outcome is 100% on me."
FSU: The Seminoles had managed their first 4-0 start since 2015 before falling at home to No. 15 Wake Forest last weekend. They looked ready to come back with an impressive win by pushing out to the 17-3 lead, only to sputter after halftime with their share of mistakes — including a bizarre one when punter Alex Mastromanno carried the ball past the line of scrimmage and kicked it away for a penalty that led to a spot turnover and set up one of Dunn's field goals.
Norvell said he thought Mastromanno lost track of where he was after avoiding a rush to start his scramble.
“It was just everything that could go wrong really in that second half really showed up,” Norvell said.
N.C. State: A season of high expectations hit its first bump with last week's loss to No. 5 Clemson, which put the Wolfpack in catch-up mode in the Atlantic Division race behind the preseason ACC favorite. Losing Leary for any time won't help the Wolfpack's immediate goals to push for a 10-win season, though it was an impressive show of resilience all the same.
N.C. State fell four spots from No. 10 after the Clemson loss. It's unclear how this performance, or Leary's potential absence, will impact the Wolfpack's position in Sunday's next AP Top 25 poll.
Doeren said X-rays revealed no fracture on Leary and he'll have an MRI for further evaluation on Sunday. N.C. State also lost receiver Devin Carter and running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye to injuries in this one as well.
Travis threw for 181 yards and a first-half touchdown to go with his two interceptions for FSU. ... Leary completed 10 of 21 passes for 130 yards with one TD and one interception. ... Chambers ran seven times for 39 yards and didn't complete his only pass. ... Florida State kicker Ryan Fitzgerald made a 47-yard field goal shortly before halftime. He had missed four of five coming in. ... N.C. State defensive back Shyheim Battle was ejected for targeting on the Seminoles' final drive.
Saturday's kickoff was delayed slightly because of a pregame lighting problem.
The game was set to kick off around 8:10 p.m. But as the sun went down, the stadium lights in Carter-Finley Stadium remained off with only ribbon and scoreboard lights offering illumination of the dimly lit field.
The school said the game wouldn’t start for 47 minutes once the lights come on, though that ultimately amounted to a delay of just a few minutes beyond the scheduled TV kickoff time.
Florida State: The Seminoles host No. 5 Clemson next Saturday.
N.C. State: Syracuse hosts the Wolfpack next Saturday.