NC State fans, meet Shadrach Thornton. After Saturday, you just may get to see a lot more of him.
The true freshman running back started the game due to a combination of injuries and suspension to the Pack's top three tailbacks, and Thornton responded by rushing for 145 yards on 21 carries and scoring touchdowns on State's first two drives en route to a 52-14 Wolfpack win.
"By the fourth [preseason] scrimmage we could see that he could run the football," head coach Tom O'Brien noted. "Let's not give him the Heisman Trophy yet.
"I think when we decided to play Shadrach he is going to be part of the rotation going forward. I think he showed today he can go in there and play."
Thornton provided NCSU with its first 100-yard rushing game since senior James Washington, among the backs missing Saturday's contest with an injury, rushed for 111 yards against UNC last November.
Thornton played because Washington and redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy missed the game with injuries, and redshirt sophomore Mustafa Greene remained suspended.
That left the Pack with just Thornton and fifth-year senior Brandon Barnes as its available tailbacks.
"[Thornton's] the only healthy back that practiced all week," O'Brien noted.
Thornton took his preparations to heart this week knowing his opportunity might come.
"You practice how you play," Thornton said. "Regardless if I was going to get in or not, I'm going to go 110 percent. The game is won in practice. That's where you put in all the hard work."
Thornton's first score was a 19-yard scamper to give the Pack a 7-0 lead. The Citadel's Darien Robinson, a junior running back, busted through State's defense for a 65-yard touchdown just four plays after Thornton's first score, but the Pack rookie answered and punched in a seven yard score.
Then the turnovers happened, breaking open the floodgates.
First The Citadel's slot receiver Vandyke Jones could not handle the pitch from junior quarterback Ben Dupree, and NCSU senior defensive end Brian Slay recovered at The Citadel's 24.
Two players later fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon connected with redshirt sophomore Bryan Underwood on an underneath crossing route that Underwood took in for a 20-yard touchdown, diving about the last five yards.
It was the fourth straight game to start the season that Underwood had a touchdown reception.
The Citadel tried to respond with a deep pass over the middle on the first play of its next possession, but sophomore Aaron Miller made the mistake of challenging State junior corner David Amerson.
Amerson came up with a leaping interception at the NC State 42, his 16th of his career, which ties a school record for most career picks. Glennon converted the turnover into points when he scrambled in from two-yards out with 11:15 to go in the half, giving State an insurmountable 28-7 lead.
NCSU also got its first non-offensive touchdown of the season when redshirt junior receiver Rashard Smith returned a punt 73 yards to the end zone with 3:39 remaining in the first half, upping State's lead to 35-7 at that point.
Glennon completed the first half scoring with a one-yard run as time expired, giving State a 42-7 edge at the break.
Glennon was sharp Saturday, completing 19 of 24 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a pair of scores. Redshirt junior Quintin Payton was once again Glennon's favorite target. Payton caught five passes for 100 yards, giving him his second 100-yard receiving effort in four games this season.
The Pack was a little sloppy in the second half, turning it over on its first two possessions. The first was a fumble by fifth-year senior receiver Tobais Palmer while trying to dive into the end zone.
Glennon's mishandled lateral to Underwood gave The Citadel good field position at the NCSU 28, setting up freshman fullback Vinny Mitchell's 15-yard touchdown with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
State responded on its next possession with a 15-play, 72-yards drive that ended with fifth-year senior Brandon Barnes' 6-yard touchdown. That was Barnes' second career touchdown rush.
Up 49-14, the Pack went to its reserves. True freshman quarterback Manny Stocker played in his second consecutive game, and even walk-on running backs Milton Hall and Jonathan Fisher got some carries.
Stocker had two passing plays called. His first time dropping back he was sacked, and then his first career pass attempt was dropped by redshirt freshman wide out Hakeem Flowers.
A 23-yard field goal with 7:17 left in the contest by sophomore Niklas Sade provided the final 52-14 margin.
Afterwards, despite Thornton's breakthrough performance, O'Brien seemed more pleased with his defensive effort that held The Citadel's tricky option attack to 226 total yards.
"Certainly the offense getting ahead against a team like this helped, big time," O'Brien said.
"[The Citadel] rushed for under 200 yards, of which 80 was on two touchdowns. You take that out, you got 110 yards rushing. Like I said, I think the defense did a great job."
The Citadel's Robinson, on the strength of his 65-yard score, did become the first 100-yard rusher allowed by NC State since Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead lit the Pack defense up for 167 yards last season, ironically on Sept. 22. Robinson ran nine times for 102 yards.
Attendance Saturday evening at Carter-Finley Stadium was 55,145.