NC State fifth-year senior wide receiver Tobais Palmer had his best game of the season last Saturday, but knows it's not the same with a loss.
Palmer was poised to be one of the heroes for NC State, after catching five passes for 119 yards and a memorable 83-yard touchdown pass from fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon. The score gave the Wolfpack a 28-25 lead with 6:49 left in the second quarter.
UNC star running back Giovani Bernard dashed those thoughts with a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game for a come from behind 43-35 victory in Chapel Hill. Palmer's play can still be considered one of the positives from the game, especially in light that he didn't catch a pass the week prior against Maryland.
"As a senior, going out with an 'L' against our rival after beating them five years in a row, it's a tough loss to bury," Palmer said. "I know it's going to be with me forever, but it's something that I can't let linger on right now because there is still a lot of season left to be played. I need to step up and be there for my team."
Glennon's throw to Palmer ended up covering 60 yards in the air on his first score of the season.
"I was just running and I really see the ball until the last minute," Palmer said. "I thought Mike had missed me. I saw the ball coming, and my eyes got big. I was like, 'OK, I'm by myself and I have to catch it.' Once I caught it, I knew the rest was in hand.
"That game right there gave me a lot of motivation. I felt like I could have been doing that all season."
Palmer hopes the next four games will follow a similar script of getting into rhythm with Glennon. He has caught 25 passes for 333 yards and one touchdown, while also handling kickoff returns for the Wolfpack this season.
Palmer also has something to prove against Virginia on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium and has a game plan for the pregame warmups.
"The pregame rule for me personally is to just watch out who I run into," said Palmer, who missed the game in Charlottesville, Va., last year after suffering a concussion prior to kickoff. "Last year was a freak accident. My teammate and I just ran into each other. I'll be keeping my head on a swivel this week."
Palmer is averaging 20.0 yards on 27 kickoff returns with a long of 50, and is tied for a team-high six special team tackles. He also has tacked on 64 yards on six carries when the Wolfpack open the playbook.
The Pittsboro, N.C., native has watched the 2-6 Cavaliers on video this week. UVa starts four sophomores in the secondary and have three freshmen backups.
"They are a pretty young group and we can't take them lightly," Palmer said. "They are a team that is coming in and trying to beat us as well. They have a mission and game plan, and adjust."
Becoming bowl eligible, remaining undefeated at Carter-Finley Stadium and staying alive in the chase in the Atlantic Division are all motivating factors for NC State.
"I feel like these next couple of home games will be a huge advantage for us," said Palmer in referring to UVa and then Wake Forest at home Nov. 10. "We'll be taking our loss in our rivalry last week and using it as fuel to motivate us. Our season is not over. You never know what might happen. We want to go to the best bowl possible."
NCSU coach Tom O'Brien estimated the Wolfpack receiving targets — wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and fullbacks — combined for 10 drops against UNC. Palmer wasn't afflicted with the dropsies, but pointed out how that kind of negative energy can permeate through a group. Palmer said having a short memory is the key.
"Not only does it get contagious but it gets real frustrating," Palmer said. "We all get down on ourselves because we are so hard on ourselves. We want to make that big catch. We get down on ourselves and let it linger through the game."