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NC State overpowers Vanderbilt in Independence Bowl

By The Sports Xchange

SHREVEPORT, La. -- North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren was very excited in the aftermath of his team's 41-17 win over Vanderbilt on Monday night in the Camping World Independence Bowl, realizing the Wolfpack were in a hard-fought battle.
"A very good effort by Vanderbilt," Doeren said. "The defensive line got some key sacks, Airius (Moore) getting a big sack there at the end and the pick-six to put the exclamation point by Niles (Clark) was awesome."
The combination of Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley and tight end Jaylen Samuels proved to be too much the Vanderbilt defense.
Samuels finished with six catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns, including a 55-yard score on which the junior broke free on a flanker screen and put N.C. State up 14-3 heading into halftime.
He broke the Independence Bowl record held by six other receivers with two receiving touchdowns.
"I've been preparing myself all week," Samuels said of his record-setting performance. "Ever since our last game, I've just been preparing for the bowl game, and Coach (Eliah) Drinkwitz called great plays. The wide receivers were blocking, the offensive line was blocking, and we just executed."
Finley completed 19 of 30 passes for 235 yards and tied an Independence Bowl record with three TD passes for the Wolfpack (7-6).
The Commodores (6-7) were hurt by Kyle Shurmur's three interceptions that led to 20 points. Shurmur connected on 19 of 46 passes for 158 yards.
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb produced 111 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. In the process, he became the school's single-season rushing leader, passing Zac Stacy, who set the record with 1,193 yards in 2011.
The Commodores took an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks in large part to their defensive effort which forced a Matt Dayes fumble. Later in the first, Vanderbilt's defense stalled a long Wolfpack drive after stopping Dayes short of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
However, turnovers proved to be more deadly for the Vanderbilt offense with N.C. State converting two interceptions into 14 points. Junior free safety Josh Jones, freshman nickel back Trae Meadows, and senior cornerback Niles Clark picked off passes for the Wolfpack in the game.
"I thought they did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage throughout the game," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said of the Wolfpack's effort on Monday night. "I thought their front seven or eight were great, and they really did a good job of dropping safeties and corners down the box, they did a good job tackling, and conversely, we didn't do a good job of tackling on our side.
"Anytime your edges get soft, you're going to give up explosive plays, and that's what I saw."
The Wolfpack led 28-3 in the third quarter before Webb's 30-yard scoring run sliced the deficit to 18.
Vanderbilt freshman wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb subsequently returned a punt 71 yards to set the Commodores up at the 4-yard line. Redshirt sophomore running back Khari Blasingame leaped into the end zone for a 1-yard score to cut N.C. State's lead to 28-17 with 10:37 remaining.
Nyheim Hines, a sophomore wide receiver for the Wolfpack, responded with a 100-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff to extend the margin to 35-17.
Clark's 32-yard TD of an interception capped the scoring.
Shurmur admitted it was hard to focus throughout the past month, "I just got to do a better job. There is a fine line between being aggressive and careless and I crossed that a few times."
"One thing I got to do a better job of personally is stay focused through this month-long process. I thought I was focused enough throughout this month, but there were times I slacked here and there and should have picked it up."
Samuels was named the offensive MVP. Moore led the way the Wolfpack defense, tallying nine tackles, two tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.
North Carolina State starting CB Mike Stevens did not play in the game due to injury. Freshman Nick McCloud started in his place.
Vanderbilt LB Ja'karri Thomas sustained an apparent head injury in the third quarter.
North Carolina State WR Nyheim Hines became the second player in Independence Bowl history to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

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