Story Poster
Cory Durden
Emeka Emezie
Devin Leary
Levi Jones
NC State Football

LOCKER ROOM REPORT: Wolfpack Players

November 27, 2021

Several NC State players met with the media via Zoom following the No. 20 Wolfpack's 34-30 win over North Carolina Friday night.

Defensive tackle Cory Durden recorded three tackles and one quarterback hurry against the Tar Heels. Wide receiver Emeka Emezie caught five passes for 112 yards, including two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game. Quarterback Devin Leary completed 19 of his 30 pass attempts for 247 yards and four touchdowns. Linebacker Levi Jones recorded five tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one quarterback hurry.

NOTE: Click on each player’s respective thumbnail to watch each interview.

Cory Durden

What was the energy like on the sideline during the final two minutes?

The energy was amazing. To have a group of guys like this that believe until the last second, it’s just amazing. With two minutes when they still had the ball, we knew we were going to win. We knew the offense was going to get the ball back, and we were going to win. We knew how the onside kick was going to go. It was amazing. Just seeing guys have faith and never lose the faith at any point in the game, it’s amazing to me. With 1:30 left and no timeouts, most people would think that the game is over, but my teammates didn’t do that. 

How does it feel to beat North Carolina tonight, especially in these circumstances?

Honestly, it feels amazing. This is an amazing feeling to beat a team like that. Sam Howell is a great player. To beat an NFL[-caliber] quarterback like that, it always just feels great. We’re going to enjoy this win. The goal is the ACC Championship, so we’re going to be Boston College fans tomorrow. 

Did you have confidence on the final drive with the Tar Heels passing the ball?

Yes. We had a lot of confidence. It’s no surprise Sam Howell is a good player, but we wanted him to beat us with his arm. He hadn’t beaten us with his arm the whole game. We had been beating up on him. We wanted him to drop back and beat us with his arm, and he couldn’t do it. You all saw that at the end. 

What did the defense talk about on the field during the drive where the Heels kicked their field goal? What did you do to keep them out of the end zone?

The whole drive, it was a sporadic drive. It was all over the place. We had penalties. We had that tipped ball that I think their tight end caught on the four- or five-yard line. We had a lot of sporadic stuff happen. Our biggest thing was just to stay together. If we kept them out of the box because every play that they got they didn’t earn. They got a penalty. They got that tipped ball. And then there was something else that happened on that drive. So just the mindset was to make them earn it. They drove down the field, and we didn’t make them earn anything. But when they got to the four-yard line, we made them earn it. They didn’t get in. We made them earn it. Them taking three instead of a touchdown equals us winning. Little stuff like that equals winning.

Emeka Emezie

Your final catch at Carter-Finley Stadium was the game-winning touchdown against North Carolina. Has that sunk in for you yet?

Honestly, no. Bro, what even just happened, honestly? We were down with like two minutes left. My head was down, but I had seen in the crowd that someone’s shirt said “Don’t Ever Give Up.” I just started praying. Like Jimmy V, I just started praying. Things just went our way. It was crazy. 

You decided to come back for this season. To end the regular season with an undefeated record at home and with two touchdowns against your rival, how does it feel to finish the regular-season portion like that?

Honestly, it doesn’t feel real. I just really thank God. You can’t script that up. You can’t envision that. That’s a blessing right there. I’ve got to thank God, really. 

Can you go through the two touchdown passes and how they unfolded for you?

The first one, they clouded the coverage. The safety had taken Thayer [Thomas]. I started running down the sideline. I was just hoping Devin would see me. He just launched it up, and I was wide open. It was a touchdown. The second one, we had a different play call. Devin just believes in me, and I believe in him . He just checked me to the go ball, and he just threw it up. And I came down with it. 

What does it mean to you to catch Leary’s touchdown passes that tied and broke Philip Rivers’ single-season passing touchdown record?

It’s just meaningful. During the COVID year, we spent two weeks straight running routes with each other. My sophomore year, I would run routes after every game in the indoor with him. We just spent so much time with each other. I remember after the 2019 season, we were in the indoor almost every other day. We spoke that into existence with each other. The season he’s having, the season we’re having, it’s not really a surprise. I’m not really surprised he’s doing this. He’s always had this in him. It’s just what we do.

Given the situation, how surprising was it to be that wide open on your first touchdown catch?

Yeah, I don’t know why they would leave me wide open. But we’ll take a touchdown any day. I wasn’t surprised, though. They kept trying to play Cover-2, trying to cloud the coverage every single time on first down. I think Thayer just ran a little bender, so the safety bit on it. When they keep running the zone, I think there’s just going to be a miscommunication at some point in the game. It just happened to happen at the later part of the game. 

On what led to running the vertical routes late...

It was what they were doing defensively. Those types of looks, we usually don’t throw it vertically. They’re trying to stop the deep ball. They’re trying to make us throw underneath. Devin just gave me a chance, and sometimes as a receiver that’s all that you ask for. He believes in me, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day. They weren’t really playing man-to-man.

Devin Leary

How fitting does it feel for you for Emezie to catch your record-breaking touchdowns?

It’s amazing. It really is. It’s a blessing, too. It’s crazy just to think how far we’ve come as a program, and how far I’ve come myself as a player, a quarterback and a leader of this team. Being able to have a receiver and a teammate and a friend like Emeka, it just helps me become that much better. The dude works his butt off the most I’ve ever seen in my life. For him to be a part of this and for him to be contributing to this season the entire year, it’s just a huge honor. 

Do you think the onside kick recovery tonight was the redemption needed from the Wake Forest game?

Yeah, it was crazy. Just to think we were in a very similar situation not too long ago, and things didn’t really go our way. As soon as we recovered the onside kick, I knew we were going to score. I knew we were going to get the ball in the end zone somehow, someway. Football kind of works that way sometimes, and I’m glad it was in our favor. 

How surprised were to see Emezie that wide open on the first touchdown pass?

Yeah, I was surprised, honestly. They did a good job of knowing where Emeka was each and every play. They were being able to cloud towards his side, trap towards his side. It was almost like a busted coverage. I went through my progression, saw Emeka was wide open and just gave him a shot and let him  do the rest. 

Does this top what happened against Clemson in terms of craziness?

I think they were both pretty crazy. Both games were coming down to the wire, we’ve got to make a play and we do. It’s very similar. It’s very weird how the game works out like that sometimes. Knocking off a No. 9 team early in a season is always something you’ll remember. Then year in and year out, anytime you beat UNC as a rival, you’re always going to remember it. They pretty much go hand-in-hand for me. 

Can you take us through your emotions watching the onside kick recovery and going back onto the field for the final offensive drive?

We knew we needed to get the onside kick to have a chance to win. And as soon as we recovered it, the first thing is all my teammates are looking at me. All the guys on defense are looking at me. I’m saying, “Let’s go. Let’s go win this thing.” As the quarterback of this team, as the leader of this team, you’ve got to put your best foot forward. That’s what we did. My emotions, I like to stay level throughout the game until the time runs out. That’s kind of how I’ve been, and I knew as soon as we recovered the ball that we were going to go down and score. 

Was the read to Emezie your first read on that play, or was that something that became available as the play developed?

Yeah, that was one of my reads. Based off the coverage and based off the matchup, we were basically taking a shot. We knew Emeka does a great job of locating the ball. As soon as I saw the opening I took a shot, and he made a great play. 

Levi Jones

Can you tell us your emotions and how it feels to beat North Carolina?

For me, it was very huge. It was my first time beating them since I’ve been enrolled at NC State. Always beating a rival is a huge win. Just how it came down to the wire and how it took all sides of the ball, it just made it even better. 

What was some of the talk on the drive where you held the Tar Heels to a field goal?

It’s just having that mentality of bending but not breaking. The defense bends, but don’t break. We just stay persistent, doing what we’re coached to do, playing the calls and executing. Only giving away three points, that drive was almost a win for the defense. That’s just kind of the mentality we have. No one ever gets down on each other. Someone might make a mistake, but we’re there to pick him up. That’s where our mindset was, and that’s how we approach things.

What does going undefeated at home and being able to accomplish that goal mean for you and the team as a whole?

Yeah, it’s very huge. It’s something that hasn’t been done here in a while at NC State. So, just having our name in that line of history is very important to us. That’s what we’ve been working for. Turning stuff around, making big things happen. That’s the way we feel about it. 

Was there any point where anyone on the team thought that the game was over?

I mean, I know the mentality and some of the things I was hearing on our sideline, whether they were players or staff, I didn’t hear anyone giving up. I heard everyone saying, “We’re still in this. The game’s not over. There’s still two minutes on the clock.” Just coming off the field to the sideline and hearing that and everyone’s uplifting spirit, that really helps a lot. It brings a lot of energy to the defense. 

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