CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina State ran right at its rival, delivered hard hit after hard hit and overwhelmed a high-scoring offense to the point that it nearly earned a shutout.
Second-year coach Dave Doeren's first win against North Carolina couldn't have gone much better.
"Sometimes things are just right," Doeren said, "and they were right today, for a lot of reasons."
Brissett ran for a career-best 167 yards while Thornton ran for 161 more for the Wolfpack (7-5, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), part of a 388-yard ground game that set a physical tone from the outset. Brissett threw just 11 passes, through three went for short touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack's defensive front mauled the Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4) and never let that high-scoring attack build any rhythm or momentum.
"None of you (saw this coming) but we did," Doeren said to reporters. "I'm just telling you right now. I love that you guys all picked them to win because that just helped me. Thank you. Do it again next year.
"We believe in this team. I believe in these kids, we believe in the plan and it's always going to be about how well you execute and how physical you are."
UNC finished with 207 total yards and didn't score until getting a meaningless touchdown with 1:48 left. N.C. State finished with four sacks and 10 tackles for loss, repeatedly swallowing up running plays and swarming around Marquise Williams before ultimately knocking him from the game with a leg injury early in the second half.
The Wolfpack led 21-0 by halftime in a performance that ended up looking a lot like a 41-10 win here in 2008 when Russell Wilson was the quarterback and Tom O'Brien was coach -- complete with the Wolfpack celebrating late in Kenan Stadium after the home fans had long since fled for the exits.
"I wish I had more answers for you, actually," UNC coach Larry Fedora said. "I would probably feel better about myself if I did, but I don't have a whole lot to say. You've got to give all the credit to them."
North Carolina was coming off last week's lopsided win against another rival, Duke, last week. Yet the Tar Heels looked nothing like that team, while the Wolfpack looked more than ready after a week off.
"Stunning is a good word," Fedora said. "It was very disappointing. I was very surprised, actually. But it's what it was. No matter how you look at it, they dominated the line of scrimmage."
Brissett scored on a 17-yard keeper to start the game and had a 60-yard run to set up Thornton's short touchdown late in the first half. N.C. State had just one 100-yard individual rushing performance all year, but Brissett (115) and Thornton (106) had reached that mark by halftime.
"It was really a two-headed demon that they couldn't stop," Thornton said.
By the end, Brissett had set the program's single-game rushing record for quarterbacks and N.C. State had its first back-to-back 300-yard rushing games since 1981.
"It's just we saw what the offensive line was doing well," Brissett said, "and we just followed their lead."
Williams -- one of the league leaders in total offense -- threw for 97 yards on 11-for-22 passing and ran for just 11 yards while taking three sacks.
The last came when T.Y. McGill slammed Williams down as he tried to escape with 12:29 left in the third quarter.
Williams stayed down briefly before slowly walking off the field. He was eventually carted to a nearby tunnel for evaluation, and was spotted walking gingerly along the sideline back to UNC's locker room at the opposite end of the field late in the quarter.
UNC spokesman Kevin Best said X-rays on Williams' lower right leg showed no fracture.
The Tar Heels also lost receiver Ryan Switzer, who left after taking a hit to the torso while preparing to field a punt in the fourth quarter. His status was unclear.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
Notre Dame adds ESPN 300 offensive lineman Rocco Spindler
Notre Dame added offensive lineman Rocco Spindler on Saturday, giving the Fighting Irish eight ESPN 300 commitments.
College players opting out of the 2020 fall football season
With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing and the numbers continuing to rise in the United States, some college players have decided to opt out of the 2020 fall football season. This list is a collection of those athletes.
Colorado State players refute allegations of intimidation, racism by coach Steve Addazio, staff
A group of Colorado State players released a statement on Saturday on behalf of the football team that disputes the accusations against head coach Steve Addazio and his coaching staff as the school investigates intimidation and racism allegations.
After night of college football normalcy, MAC decision brings us back to reality
The glimmer of football normalcy that came with recent schedule releases and trash talk quickly evaporated when the MAC pushed its season to spring 2021. But Ryan McGee, for one, believes that hope for normalcy, on and off the field, won't ever go away.
Pitt's Jaylen Twyman opts out of 2020 college season to focus on NFL draft
Pitt's Jaylen Twyman, who had 10.5 sacks last season and is the No. 5 defensive tackle in ESPN's positional rankings for the NFL draft, has decided to opt out of the 2020 college season to focus on the NFL draft.
Letters show sharp divide between players and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott over protocols on the coronavirus pandemic
Email letters exchanges show a sharp divide between leaders from the Pac-12 #WeAreUnited unity group and commissioner Larry Scott over the conference's return-to-play policies related to the coronavirus pandemic.