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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
RALEIGH — Furious at the officials and suggesting Clemson had some help on its sideline, Dave Doeren did not go quietly into a bad night Saturday.
N.C. State fell 38-31 to sixth-ranked Clemson in a wild ACC game that might've saved the league's playoff hopes while ripping control of State's destiny from its shaking hands. Now 6-3 (4-1, ACC), the Pack and its bewildered fans were furious.
And their coach, who didn't help matters, went full-on conspiracy theory.
To his credit, he blamed himself in part for the loss while taking direct aim at the officials and a murky piece of evidence spotted near the Clemson bench.
"I'd like to know why there was a laptop on the Clemson sideline," Doeren said. "I'd like that to be investigated. Maybe they weren't doing anything, but I was told it was illegal to have technology on the sidelines."
A school spokesman said a call had been made to the league office minutes after the game ended.
So while State lost a second straight game, lost control of the Atlantic Division and probably lost hope of a fun bowl game, Doeren gave fans the next best thing.
An excuse. A cause. A claim of a plot to take down the Wolfpack through shady dealings between Clemson, the officials and the league.
State has four games to play, and one of them is against North Carolina. That's enough to keep the fanbase energized even though this was in fact a brutal blow to the season everyone here has been waiting for for a generation.
The game ended with fans howling at the officials, just as Doeren had done throughout the game. And there was plenty to howl about. But as the officials ran for cover, fans gathered at the field exit and threw things, some of them leaning over the concrete wall and taking dead aim at the officials, debris bouncing off their heads and the security surrounding the officials.
It was like something out of Reynolds Coliseum in the '70s. The atmosphere throughout the game was incredible. The noise was deafening.
The laptop was silent.
Dabo Swinney told Clemson writers that he had no idea what Doeren was talking about. He said the suspicious laptop belonged to a student in the school's social media department.
This game wasn't decided by the officials or skullduggery. It was decided by Clemson being seven points better than State.
N.C. State had controlled the game in the first half, and had, in fact, outgained Clemson and dominated in first downs, passing yardage, total yardage and time of possession. But on the Tigers' first series of the third quarter, Swinney called for a quick kick than pinned State inside its 1-yard line. The field flip changed the game. State started three straight drives deep in its own territory and then, faced with a key fourth down near midfield, in a game that required aggressive play-calling and complete offensive attack mode, Doeren punted.
Tavien Feaster ran 89 yards through the middle of State's defense for a touchdown on the very next play. In 31/2 minutes, Clemson scored two touchdowns to go from trailing the entire game to leading 31-21.
A lot would happen before the end, but State never led again.
On a night when quarterback Ryan Finley completed 14 straight passes to open the game, finishing with 338 yards passing and three touchdowns, State somehow lost.
"I don't think I played well enough for us to win," he said.
Actually, he did. And so did most everyone else Like so many promising N.C. State seasons in years past, this loss will stick with the Pack.
Doeren probably should've kept the laptop stuff to himself, reported it to the league and let the ACC figure out how it ended up on the Clemson sideline. He probably should've brushed off questions about officiating, credited the Tigers and moved on.
But that's not his style. And that's not N.C. State's style. Instead, he did talk about the officiating. And he did talk about the laptop. And he gave State fans something to be mad about.
This was a tough loss against the backdrop of some questionable calls and a conspiracy theory.
This was so N.C. State.
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