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November 23, 2013

Locker room notebook: Pack is sticking together

It was too little, too late for NC State against East Carolina. Although the Wolfpack racked up 299 yards and three passing touchdowns in the second half of play, it was not enough to pull out a victory.

"In the second half, it really clicked for us," fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell said. "We just kind of started airing it out a little bit.

"In the second half, we thought that we could air it out and take advantage of their linebackers, almost like a two-on-one fastbreak where the linebacker has to make a decision to guard one player and whichever decision he made was going to be the wrong one because we had guys coming in behind him."

Senior wide out Rashard Smith notched the first 100-yard receiving game of his career with seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile Quintin Payton, another senior, notched four receptions for 91 yards and rookie Jumichael Ramos continued his emergence with five catches, including two that went for scores.

"I think it was really big, especially for a lot of those younger receivers who got a lot of catches like [Travares] Copeland, [Marquez] Valdes-Scantling; Matt Dayes got a couple and even Tony Creecy caught one out of the backfield then made a guy miss," the signal caller noted. "These last two weeks Jumicahel has been playing really good. Obviously we want to win, but it's also good for us to keep trying to build this program for the future and get guys like that the ball so that he has a lot of confidence going over into the offseason.

"As seniors, we want to win and we want to get our stats now that we know we can't go to a bowl game, but at the same time, we want to see this program go to bigger heights for the years to come, so that's what we're doing. When guys like that have the opportunity to make plays, you want to get them the ball, that way we can get this program going in the right direction."

Mitchell was not the only one upbeat about the direction of the program in the postgame press conference. Head coach Dave Doeren opened his comments after the loss by thanking the fans for coming out and, although he admitted it's been a tough year for them, he implored the Pack faithful to stick with his team.

"The guys are going to keep fighting, we're going to have a heck of an offseason and a great recruiting class," he said. "We are going to develop this program into something that they are very proud of."

He said he hopes the team receives similar support from the fanbase next weekend for the season finale against Maryland on Senior Day.

"The thing I told the guys in the locker room was the way they finished the game is something that I'm proud of, but I want to go out this season with a win for our seniors," he said. "They've done everything we've asked them to do. Now we need to come together for the next seven days and go forward."

Doeren also noted that he has not been discouraged by the direction of the program during the team's losing streak, and he knows they just need to stay the course.

"We're a very strong team, from a chemistry standpoint," he said. "We've spent a ton of time talking about the values of our program and I think every player and coach, to a man, has grown a lot this year. Our chemistry is good, our guys love each other. We care a lot about our players; we push them hard and they practice hard. That's not going to stop.

"I think everybody in our locker room, in our building and in our administration knows where our program is heading. They're going to keep playing and fighting. I know they're disappointed in the end result, so are we as coaches - we want to taste that victory and savor the work - and we're not getting there, but we sure aren't giving in, either."

Mitchell, who has always been a positive guy despite the challenges he has faced this year, still wore a smile in his postgame press conference.

"It's just all of the things we've been through," he explained. "Coach had a great quote today; he said, 'don't be ashamed of the scars that you have on your body because it just shows you that whatever tried to get you before, you were stronger and tougher than it.'

"I think this is probably the closest team I've ever been a part of; even at Arkansas when we had great teams, we were never really a team. Here guys fight together, we work out together, we do everything together; it doesn't matter what time of day it is. We're always spending time together. Obviously, it didn't translate to wins, but when you have guys like that making plays, you know they're going to go to battle for you."

Mitchell, who admitted he might have been dinged up a little bit in the game but doesn't expect anything short of a broken bone to keep him off the field, said the excellent team chemistry starts with the coaching staff, who is always preaching the importance of family.

"You have to stick together," senior cornerback Dontae Johnson added. "If we don't have team chemistry, everything could explode. Us sticking together has been helping us get through this tough time. When you have a tough time, you always lean on your family and we've been leaning on each other."

"We're going to scarred and we're going to have a very challenging offseason, but everything we've been through this year will make us twice as strong next year," Doeren concluded. "In the last three years as a coach, I've been in a lot of wins and in some good bowl games and al that, but the stuff I've been through this year has been tough and I've grown a lot.

"I know I'm a better coach for it and I know our players will be mentally tougher and humbled from the experience. It's going to be a very good offseason to grow as a football team, and we will."

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