Tajh Boyd threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns to help No. 3 Clemson beat North Carolina State 26-14 on Thursday night.
Boyd's second scoring pass, a 30-yarder to Martavis Bryant, capped a critical third-quarter sequence that allowed the Tigers (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to seize momentum in front of a hostile crowd.
Clemson pulled away from there. Boyd found Bryant for another touchdown, with Bryant snatching the ball from defender Niles Clark for a 15-yard score that helped the Tigers blow the game open early in the fourth.
Sammy Watkins added 10 catches for 96 yards on a night when Clemson's explosive offense didn't manage many big plays yet finished with 415 yards.
Shadrach Thornton scored the Wolfpack's first touchdown on a 21-yard run in the second. N.C. State (2-1, 0-1) led 7-6 at that point but couldn't complete the upset in coach Dave Doeren's first league game.
The Tigers entered Raleigh with their highest ranking in 25 years and a prime spot in the national championship chase. They also came with memories of their inexplicably bad performance here two seasons earlier, when the Wolfpack scored 27 second-quarter points en route to a 37-13 rout of the then-No. 7 Tigers.
N.C. State followed that win with an upset of No. 3 Florida State here last year, and Doeren – the former Northern Illinois coach – said that history gave his veterans confidence they could do it again.
But N.C. State's hopes of beating a top-10 team at home for the third straight season essentially ended in a frustrating sequence midway through the third.
Receiver Bryan Underwood, who stepped out along the sideline earlier in the game to cut short a long run, took a handoff around the right side and sprinted for what appeared to be an 83-yard touchdown to tie the game at 13. But officials ruled Underwood stepped on the sideline at the Clemson 47 and blew the play dead, making it an unreviewable play – TV replays appeared to show him remaining inbounds – that led to boos raining down from the Carter-Finley Stadium stands.
Three plays later, Clemson's Vic Beasley knocked the ball loose from Pete Thomas on a sack for a fumble recovered by Spencer Shuey. Boyd and the Tigers' offense pounced on the opportunity, with Boyd connecting with Bryant for the 30-yard score that made it 20-7 with 5:25 left in the quarter.
Bryant's impressive grab for his second touchdown on Clemson's next drive made it 26-7 with 11:27 left, putting the Tigers firmly in control.
Sam Cooper added an 11-yard touchdown catch with 2:23 left in the second quarter that gave the Tigers a 13-7 halftime lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Thomas threw for 213 yards on 20-for-36 passing for the Wolfpack. He also ran for a 4-yard score to cap a 23-play scoring drive with 3:50 left.
N.C. State finished with 378 total yards, but failed to convert its first eight third-down tries and finished 3-for-16 for the game.
Clemson reserve left tackle Isaiah Battle was ejected for a late shove to the facemask of N.C. State's Jarvis Byrd with 1:33 left.