Dec 29, 2023

K-State hangs on to defeat NC State, 28-19


By Nick Cohen
Florida Citrus Sports

The 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl did not disappoint as the Kansas State Wildcats defeated the NC State Wolfpack 28-19.

With 31,111 fans making the trip to Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., the game was electric from the moment the official Pop-Tarts mascot, “Strawberry,” emerged from a giant toaster, until the very last second.

“We beat a really good football team. I have tons of respect for Coach Doeren. He is a great football coach,” said K-State head coach Chris Klieman. “They play physical, and they play hard. These are two mirrored programs, and the game was really physical on both sides. That is what we knew it would be. Their quarterback is an exceptional player.”

K-State was bold early in the game, going for it on fourth down and converting. Freshman quarterback Avery Johnson located sophomore running back DJ Giddens right up the middle for a 37-yard touchdown.

Giddens was responsible for all 75 yards on K-State’s first drive with 38 on the ground and the 37-yard touchdown reception.

The early fourth down riskiness can be accredited to Coach Klieman and first-time interim offensive coordinator Conor Riley.

“It was a lot of fun. For it to be my first start and his first game as an OC , we both had ups and downs. I am looking forward to growing with him and building with him and just you see he really cares about this team. He had fire to himself throughout practice, throughout this whole Bowl week, throughout the whole time we were down in Orlando,” said Johnson. “I am really just happy to be able to throughout this whole week just build a deeper relationship with him because he really does care about his players and at the end of the day he want to win just as badly as the rest of us, so credit to him.”

Each team would punt on their next two drives and the first quarter would end with K-State up 7-0.

NC State’s senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong finished the first quarter with 65 rushing yards.

Both teams were aggressive on fourth down in this game as NC State went for it on fourth and one in the red zone to start the second quarter. The Wildcats defensive unit stood strong, ending the drive.

This season, K-State only allowed 33 red zone visits, the seventh fewest in the nation. Of the Wildcats 31 defensive red zone opportunities, teams scored 13 touchdowns and 13 field goals.

The aggressive fourth down play-calling continued as K-State faked a punt and punter Jack Blumner runs right up the middle for 30 yards. DJ Giddens capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown giving the Wildcats a 14-0 lead.

On the next drive NC State gets in on the action with Armstrong running it in from 31 yards out on a read option play. This play put Armstrong over 100 yards rushing with three minutes remaining in the first half.

Brennan Armstrong wasn’t the only dual-threat quarterback in the game. Avery Johnson juked out multiple defenders on the next drive during a 19-yard touchdown run.

Courtesy of a “kick-out-of-bounds” violation by K-State freshman kicker Simon McLannen, the Wolfpack starts its drive at the 35-yard line. The drive featured several chunk plays but NC State settled for a 26-yard field goal by Brayden Narveson to end the half down 21-10.

On NC State’s opening second-half possession, Narveson nails down another field goal, this time all the way from 49 yards out. This was Narveson’s 18th made field goal in 22 attempts.

Following a K-State punt, Brennan Armstrong launched a 40-yard bomb to freshman receiver Kevin “KC” Concepcion. The drive would stall with Narveson missing on his 52-yard field goal attempt.

Following another K-State punt, the Wildcats defense stopped the Wolfpack offense, forcing them to a fourth-and-six, but they could not stop the fake punt. Senior tight end Trent Pennix took the fake 60 yards for a touchdown. NC State went for two to tie but was unable to convert, keeping the score 21-19 in favor of K-State.

“I thought we really came out in the third quarter and really played much better. I let the coaches make their adjustments and just tried to motivate them,” said NC State head coach Dave Doeren.

Both teams punted to open the fourth quarter. On NC State’s punt, K-State senior receiver and captain Seth Pryor returned the punt for a touchdown but an illegal block in the back penalty called it off.

On that same drive, K-State would also have a 59-yard touchdown reception by senior receiver Jadon Jackson called off by a penalty.

K-State would go for it again on fourth down and a seven-yard rush by Giddens would get the job done. A few plays later Avery Johnson found his roommate, freshman receiver Jayce Brown, for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

“It was great. The O-Line, they were blocking, they were blocking real good. They were creating open holes. All I had to do was just run for real. That was all there was really to it,” said Giddens.

On the next drive NC State was looking to bounce back down 28-19 but Armstrong threw an interception to sophomore cornerback Jacob Parrish.

K-State was able to run down the rest of the clock and convert on one more fourth down to finish a perfect 4-for-4 on the night and close out the game with a 28-19 victory.

For NC State, Brennan Armstrong finished the night with 164 passing yards, one interception, 121 rushing yards, and a rushing touchdown. KC Concepcion recorded seven receptions for 72 yards and sophomore receiver Dacari Collins had two receptions for 44 yards.

For K-State, Avery Johnson finished with 178 passing yards, two touchdowns, 71 rushing yards, and one rushing touchdown enroute to MVP honors in his first game as a starter.

“I just try to carry myself with confidence throughout everything that I do, and credit to my dad always for just making sure I am confident in myself,” said Johnson. “Whenever you have people that care about you in the facilities, in the locker room, it just really makes going out and putting your head down and working easier.”

DJ Giddens rushed for 152 yards and a touchdown, as well as 37 receiving yards and another touchdown. Jayce Brown had five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown, sophomore receiver Keagan Johnson had three receptions for 31 yards, and freshman tight end Garrett Oakley had two receptions for 35 yards.

“You have to give the running back credit, because we did not tackle him well. He ran hard and that is on us. We have to tackle better,” said Doeren.

In partnership with the College Football Playoff Foundation and Extra Yard for Teachers, a local teacher was awarded $1,000 for every touchdown during the game. Six local teachers in all received $1,000 for classroom projects thanks to Kansas State, North Carolina State, and the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

Sign Up
for Alerts

Keep up to date with all of the news from the Pop-Tarts Bowl including event information, presale opportunities and more.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.