A few weeks ago, it was tough to be part of the NC State Wolfpack. A team that started 4-1 was sliding down an ugly, bumpy road with four straight losses.
If not for that regular-season-ending upset over North Carolina, the Wolfpack would have been watching the Camping World Independence Bowl from their couches.
So while the Vanderbilt owned all the momentum entering the game, it was NC State that got off to a fast start with 14 points in the second quarter, before cruising past what looked like an overmatched Commodores team 41-17.
The Wolfpack's defense was suffocating, and their offense just missed out on 400 yards, as NC State ended a five-game losing streak to SEC teams. But the best thing about NC State's win was tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels. Not quite one or the other, the 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior sliced and diced Vandy's solid defense for three touchdown catches on the night.
Samuels provided the Wolfpack with an offensive mismatch, catching six balls for 104 yards, including a scintillating 55-yard touchdown on a perfectly timed screen late in the second quarter. Before that, Samuels, who lined up just about everywhere on Monday in Shreveport, Louisiana, recorded the first touchdown of the game with a 9-yard grab from quarterback Ryan Finley.
In the third quarter, Samuels put the game away for the Wolfpack with a 17-yard grab on yet another screen play. This one might have been even more impressive than the 55-yard play, as he juked inside to make defenders look silly before hopping back outside and coasting into the end zone.
Vandy's defense, which played well for the most part, had zero answers for Samuels, who entered the day with only four touchdowns on the season and hadn't scored since Oct. 1.
Three was the magic number for the Wolfpack, as NC State also made Vandy quarterback Kyle Shurmur's night an absolute nightmare with three interceptions, including a 32-yard pick-six as time expired by Niles Clark.
This was the perfect way for the Wolfpack to end the season after such a roller-coaster regular season. Getting to 7-6 seemed like a long shot after creeping to 4-5 in November. On the other side, this was a bittersweet ending for the Commodores, who won four of their past six to become bowl eligible. While it was a great feat to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2013, this Vandy team looked nothing like the one that piled nearly 50 points and more than 600 yards on Tennessee to close the regular season.