A fifteen year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: North Carolina

East Carolina vs Temple – Pirates scuttled by the Owls…

It’s Wednesday night and I’ve just pulled into a gravel parking lot in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I’m on my way to Greenville, out towards the eastern reaches of the state, past the sprawl of Raleigh and the banal office parks of research triangle. Out here there is an outlier to be found. A rebel. A renegade. A program with perhaps the most rabid football fan base in the entire Tarheel state – the aptly named ‘Pirates’ of East Carolina.

The Tarheel State is a basketball state first and foremost, the landscape dominated by the hardwood floors of the ACC Conference. Down here, football is a mere footnote, as some of the titans of the sport like Duke and North Carolina believe that true athletic competition doesn’t begin until March.

But in Greenville, things are different. East Carolina calls the American Athletic Conference home, and their fans are a notoriously rowdy, raucous departure from the gentile, bowtied southern mannerisms of Dukies and Tarheels. At 50,000 seats their stadium even boasts larger capacity than both Wallace Wade (Duke) and Groves Stadium (Wake Forest), which they routinely fill. Among the Pirate contingent, there seems to be a perpetual chip on their shoulder about their ACC brethren, and they are quick to remind you that in Greenville, things are different.

While the game would be a Thursday night kickoff instead of a Saturday afternoon affair, it would be far from a tame one. Temple was coming into town for a primetime, ESPN tilt, along with the invariable hoopla that comes from the network talking heads. While historically Temple would usually be a rather tame draw, the 2015 vintage of the Owls were soaring, sporting an unblemished 6-0 record and a lofty #22 ranking. With the stakes raised for the contest, swarthy Pirate Nation was already hoisting their battle flags in anticipation.

But before a marquee Thursday night showdown with the undefeated Temple Owls, I’ve got some needs to attend to. Barbecue. Eastern Carolina whole-hog style barbecue, specifically. Unlike their western “Piedmont” style brethren that smoke pork shoulders exclusively and douse it in red sauce, the Eastern Carolina style espouses the use of the entire pig and a vinegar based sauce. Minimally prepared and cooked whole over a hardwood (usually oak or hickory) fire, the various parts of the finished hog are then chopped with a pair of heavy cleavers into a vinegary mélange of minced porky delight.

In this barbecue crazed state there’s even a division (a feud according to some) among Carolinians over which style of barbecue, West or East, is the “true” form of the art. A quarrel that even went to the state senate, and is reflected in the verbiage of North Carolina house bill #433 (http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2007/Bills/House/HTML/H433v4.html). It’s comforting to know that the North Carolina legislature has solved all of the other pressing issues of the state, and now find themselves idle enough to tackle such demanding issues as settling semantic barbecue squabbles.

Personally, I’m not one for politics, and I’ll gladly to cross the aisle when it comes to smoked meat.

A trip to Greenville, then, would put me smack dab in the middle of some of the finest hog slings the Tarheels have to offer. With three of the state’s preeminent destinations on my itinerary, I punched a few extra holes in my belt and prepared for a North Carolina pork-a-palooza.

Back in that gravel parking lot on the night before game day, I’ve just pulled into Wilber’s BBQ, one of the legends of North Carolina barbecue since 1962. The place is busy for a Wednesday night, and a steady stream of customers flow in and out with paper sack takeout orders gripped tenderly under their arms. The interior is an homage to pine. Pine paneling, pine chairs, pine ceiling held up by exposed pine beams, and, with no detail overlooked, there’s even pine picture frames on the walls. Fortunately, they keep the Oak for the cook shack out back.

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The menu is up on the wall. An ancient Coca Cola branded slide letter menu board, which proffers a handful of BBQ plates or meats by the pound. They’re out of ribs for the night, so I order a combo of chopped pork with fried chicken instead. The combo comes with a classic array of Carolina style sides; a generous basket of golden fried hush puppies, house made coleslaw, and Styrofoam cup of sweet tea poured over crushed ice. The pork here is minced fine, mixed with a few morsel of outside brown and a waft of oak smoke. Adorned with a few shakes of Wilber’s vinegary sauce, the meal is the archetype of North Carolina style barbecue.

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From Wilber’s, I speed forty minutes east to Ayden, home of Skylight Inn, screeching into the parking lot in a cloud of dust only minutes before they close up shop for the night. If Wilber’s is a legend, then Skylight Inn is the patron saint of North Carolina barbecue. The fires here have been burning since 1947. They’ve been featured in countless magazines and television shows, fed a few presidents, and claim a James Beard award for American Classics.

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In keeping with the classics, I order the whole hog BBQ tray for $7.50. The hearty combo includes two cardboard trays stuffed with chopped pork and coleslaw, along with a notebook sized slab of the heaviest, most dense corn bread I’ve ever encountered. For refreshment, a Cheerwine is fished out of an ice bucket next to the register – the North Carolina equivalent to Dr Pepper. The food here is served stacked, a tower of porky delight. I’m given a sheet of wax paper to spread it out on, and a basket of Skylight’s sauces are arranged on the table.

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While I generally eschew all forms of BBQ sauce, the vinegar sauce indigenous to eastern North Carolina pairs exceptionally well with their style of whole hog chopped pork, which can often run on the dry side. The spicy pepper vinegar sauce at Skylight in particular, is the perfect balance of heat and acidity to cut through the rich, unctuous pork. Although, to be fair, the protein here could easily stand on its own sans adornment, as one would expect after sixty eight years. It’s got a kiss of smoke and just enough fat to stay moist. But when my teeth chomp down on a few odd chunks of unexpected bone and gristle, sending electric shockwaves up my jaw, it sours the experience. Perhaps the butcher ought to be a bit more careful with his cleavers.

Bellied on barbecue up for the night, I bed down in a cheap motel in Greenville and crank the rattling air conditioning unit to its maximum in an attempt to ward off the inevitable meat sweats.


As Thursday morning awakens, I brush off cobwebs from the pork induced coma the night before, wipe the grease stains from the corners of my mouth and go hunting for a late breakfast. It’s game day in Greenville, there’s a bright blue sky overhead, a spring in my step, and a hankering to punish a few more pigs. And when it comes to barbecue in Greenville proper, there is only one true option: B’s. (yes, thats the whole name)

If you have an image in your mind, of the idyllic, ramshackle southern barbecue joint, go ahead and erase it immediately. Replace that image with B’s BBQ instead, which embodies a veritable checklist of every criteria a proper BBQ joint should satisfy. It reads like a barbecue fairy tale incarnate.

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For starters, there’s no website.

There isn’t even a phone.

Every floorboard and wallboard in the joint is uneven, crooked, or patched up. There’s a broken handle on the rickety old screen door, and the awning over the take-away window is covered in years of soot and ready to collapse. Service is exclusively cafeteria style, and sauce is served in old whiskey bottles on the mismatched tables. They are only open for lunch, Tuesdays through Saturdays, and when they run out of food each day, the place simply closes. Of course, given the lack of a phone, there’s no way to know this unless you actually drive by.




As if those weren’t credentials enough, B’s has their own road – B’s Barbecue Road. Which isn’t a little driveway spur, mind you, but a well-traveled, two mile stretch of county road.


I arrive early, but there’s a line formed already. It’s barely 10:30, and patrons are stacked up at the sliding take-away window while the woman inside barks the orders back to the kitchen. A massive oak tree shades the picnic tables out front, while smoke billows from every corner of the screened hut cook shack. There’s a few dozen bags of Kingsford Charcoal stacked up in the corner, a forgivable offense for a place that remains unchanged for nearly forty years.

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As if scripted from a movie, a farmer in a mammoth 8 wheeled Steiger tractor pulls up for lunch, the clunky diesel motor barely croaking to a stop before he clambers down the ladder and trots over to the take-away window. Clutching a steaming Styrofoam box a few minutes later, he scurries back to the iron behemoth, hoists himself into the cab, and lurches off in a black plume of diesel smoke, a full box grader in tow behind.


Beyond the famer, the true beauty of a place like B’s lies in the parking lot, a dusty gravel log jam of vehicles from every socio economic class. A Mercedes S-Class pulls in next to a concrete contractor’s dump truck, while a Volvo station wagon sidles in next to an old Chevy C-10 pickup. Polished loafers and rolled up French cuffs huddle over the picnic tables next to dusty work boots and ripped t-shirts, all of them nose deep in a box of pork or chicken.

I order the combo plate; a generous heap of chopped pork and a chicken leg for $11.75. The hefty Styrofoam box comes fully dressed with coleslaw, boiled potatoes and four corn fritter logs, and it’s paired with a cool, Carolina sweet tea to wash it down. The pork is classic North Carolina style, finely chopped and generously doused in a peppery vinegar sauce. Chicken is the real star of the show, however, moist and smoky inside with a delectably crispy skin, it makes me a poultry believer for an afternoon.

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With a football game on the horizon I head into downtown Greenville and find easy free parking on the corner of 10th and Forbes, and decide to walk off the hefty lunch with a stroll through the East Carolina campus. There’s a nice treed quad in the heart of the campus, anchored by a Cupola, a feature oddly reminiscent of the “Old Well” at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill a few miles up the road. On a pristine Thursday afternoon, the campus is buzzing, and the students show plenty of spirit decked out in their bright purple Pirates gear. Pee Dee the Pirate Statue stands proudly on the opposite side of the quad, attracting a few visitors that pose in awkward positions with the poor sailor.

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As I make my way further South towards Dowdy Ficklen stadium, the sidewalks are thick with ECU fans, the surly, bandanna wearing Pirate logo on full display in the melee of tents, chairs and flags. The stadium is surrounded by tailgating on all sides, and fans have turned out early for the festivities on a Thursday afternoon. I spot a few custom tailgating rigs of interest, a former delivery ban outfitted with a bright Pirate paint job and satellite TV, as well as a full length retired coach bus that someone converted into a massive tailgating land yacht. East Carolina fans are widely reputed as some of the most raucous tailgaters in the game, and a few laps through the lots confirms that reputation.



I secure a ticket in the lots for twenty five bucks in section 16, a seat on the 30 yard line and a prime spot for viewing the fabled Pirate entrance. But walking into the stadium, my purple shirt quickly falls out of fashion. Pirate Nation has deemed the primetime matchup a “blackout” game, and legions of fans are decked out in solid black, a few devoted students even going the extra mile and painting themselves in full body skeletons.


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As the pregame clock ticks down, the Pirate mascot raises an ECU flag onto an aluminum mast behind the endzone. The crowd rises to its feet, anticipation thickens in the night, and they exchange boisterous chants of “purple”……”gold”….across the field. Soon after, an inflatable pirate skeleton in the west endzone begins to quake as the tinny notes of Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” come screeching across the loudspeakers. Bright purple smoke wafts from the mouth of the skeleton, billowing and hovering heavy in the air like a brush fire. As the guitar chords reach their crescendo, the Pirate squad comes bounding out of the helmet, streaking across the field enveloped in purple fog. The crowd wails away at the top of their lungs, rhythmic clapping echoing off the press box façade. It’s everything a phenomenal entrance should be, and among the most unique in the sport.


On the field, the Pirates look formidable for the first three quarters. They play smothering defense, holding the ground heavy Owls to a paltry 72 yards of rushing the entire night. As the teams jockey back and forth for field position early in the game, the conservative Pirate attack finally breaks through, reeling off a 14 play, 80 yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Pirate quarterback Blake Kemp manages the game well, and shines for a moment as the second quarter draws to a close when he leads the team 75 yards down the field before firing a touchdown strike to wide receiver Quay Johnson with only :18 seconds remaining in the half.

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Coming out of the tunnel after the break, the third quarter turns sloppy. The two squads trade a few punts, and the Pirates throw an interception which is offset when Temple botches the following field goal attempt. Both teams held scoreless in the third frame, the Pirates cling to a tenuous 14-10 lead as the quarter draws to a close.

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The atmosphere grows tense, and the smell of an upset wafts through the anxious Pirate faithful. Between the third and fourth quarter, the crowd rises to its feet, compelled by the crushing guitar intro of Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle”. Once standing, the entire stadium crosses their arms in an X shape above their heads to mimic crossbones, a handful of them waving bright crimson Jolly Roger flags with the slogan “No Quarter” emblazoned across the bottom. The same red “No Quarter” flag is hoisted ceremoniously onto the aluminum flagpole in the east endzone, replacing the purple one. The slogan, a reference to the pirate policy of taking no prisoners and offering no quarter once engaged in battle, is the fourth quarter rallying cry for the team and fans alike to fight until the bitter end. The raising of the “No Quarter” flag at the start of the 4th quarter is a tradition unique to ECU football, and a menacing one for opposing players and fans alike.

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Unfortunately, on this night, the No Quarter flag bears the mark of the black spot. The Pirate defense, which had remained stout for three quarters, collapses. With 3:31 remaining in the fourth frame, they give up a crushing 71 yard touchdown drive, and the Owls regain control at 17-14. The hobbled Pirates add to their woes only four plays later, when after going three and out on offense, their ensuing punt attempt is stuffed by Temple. Assuming control with only a 15 yard field, Owl running back Jahad Thomas promptly scampers into the end zone for another score, extending the lead to 24-14. Down by 10 with scarcely two minutes remaining on the clock, the Pirate’s fate is sealed in Davy Jones’ Locker, and the purple faithful head for the exits.

In the end, East Carolina is one of the gems of the American Athletic conference and college football at large. It has a rabid, quirky fanbase and a handful of unique traditions that belie its smaller prominence on the national landscape. It feels more like an SEC “light” school, and the Pirates could easily hold their own when it comes to game day atmosphere amongst some of their larger conference brethren. In fact, East Carolina may, arguably, make for a more interesting football gameday visit than its basketball crazed neighbors on Tobacco Road. But for now, it remains one helluva sleeper and I’d gladly go back for a marquee Saturday matchup, and maybe a few more bites of barbecue….


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North Carolina vs Georgia Tech – Tarheels take the sting out of the Yellow Jackets…

Shortly after my afternoon contest up the road at Duke, I speed out of Durham and make my way down the road towards Chapel Hill. I’ve got a night game at North Carolina to attend to, but before I head into Tarheel country I’ve got an appetite for barbecue. Fortunately, one of the holy shrines of North Carolina BBQ occupies a dusty stretch of County Road 86 on the way into town and my little Hyundai rental car begrudgingly obliged when I yanked the emergency brake, skidding into the gravel parking lot in a heap of dust.

Founded in 1970, Allen & Son BBQ is a member of the BBQ royal family in North Carolina, a state that claims to have invented the practice of barbecue. Tucked off a side road under the shade of a few massive oaks, the clapboard shack is every bit the icon of a ramshackle country BBQ stand. A faded Pepsi sign hangs off a rusty pole to the side, the words “Allen & Son” barely legible from years of hot southern sun. Inside, an impressive collection of deer mounts hang from the walls, and the waitress quickly greets me with a pitcher of ice cold sweet tea, setting the ice cold mug down on the green and white checkered table cloths. If you had to paint a picture of the perfect southern barbecue setting, Allen & Son would be exactly what you’d aspire to.

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Until your food arrives.

I should have been tipped off when the aroma of smoke was decidedly absent from the whole joint and they didn’t offer any kind of sample or combo plate, instead forcing me to order two full entrees of chopped pork and ribs each. From living in the shadow of Chapel Hill for a summer, I order my pork with a generous helping of “outside brown” the delightful crusty, flavorful bits forged after hours in the smoker. But when the cheerful waitress sets my food down, dismay quickly settles in at what sits before me. The ribs, if you can still distinguish them as such, are an overcooked pile of mush on a plate, heavily doused in sauce thats a not to distant cousin of ketchup. The chopped pork fares no better. The “outside brown” are inedible chunks of crust that taste as though charred on a grill, absent any of the sweet hickory smoke found in the Carolina style. I dig through into a few of the moister morsel of pork below, but even those taste straight out of a crock pot, nary a hint of smoke to be found anywhere. Adding insult to my already emotionally scarred taste buds, the check comes in at a hefty thirty bucks, no small price for one of the bigger disappointments I’ve ever encountered.

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Readers familiar with the blog know that I normally do my best to put a positive spin on just about any BBQ experience, but in the case of Allen & Son, order no further than the hush puppies.

Dejected from the meal, I peel out of the gravel parking lot and cruise the final few minutes into downtown Chapel Hill, determined to take my frustrations out haggling with an unwitting scalper. I find free parking on a small side street, bypassing the pricey garages along Franklin Street -the main artery of the North Carolina campus. Lined with ample bars and restaurants, the sidewalks are alive with game day revelers who slowly start spilling out of the pubs along Franklin on their way towards Kenan Memorial Stadium. I fall into the throngs of Carolina Blue shirts heading that direction, stopping every block or so to price the market from the scalpers located at each main intersection, and the market looks to be about half face value for the evening.

On the way towards Kenan, I detour off the street and bisect the North Carolina campus, walking through winding paths in the lush grass shaded by a canopy of oaks hanging overhead. I take a sip at the “Old Well” along the way, the icon of UNC. A neoclassical rotunda in the center of campus, the Old Well was once the primary water source for the university at the turn of the 20th century, while today it’s primarily a photo op for campus visitors and the emblematic symbol of the school. A few feet further down the brick path, the North Carolina marching band belts out brassy, pre game notes on the steps of the Wilson Library, while hundreds of Carolina Blue clad faithful look on. It’s here I finally strike a bargain on a ticket, a choice fifty yard line seat only six rows from the field for twenty five dollars – about half face value. Further proof that one need never pay sticker price for a ticket to all but the biggest games…

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As the sun starts to dip, I pass by the Morehead Patterson Bell Tower jutting into the few remaining minutes of a Carolina blue sky. Rising 172 feet at it’s peak, the brick tower is surrounded by a formal arrangement of hedges and lawn, a few official UNC hospitality tents spread out on the prime real estate below. Entering Kenan Memorial a few feet away, a black and white picture of famed football alum Lawrence Taylor greets me at the entrance, and I wind around the sprawling concourse towards my section. Descending into the aluminum bench seats, it’s quickly evident that with the sight lines at Kenan being this close to the field is more curse than blessing. The lowest rows of seating sit lower than the playing surface, and I crane to peer over the players during warmups. The crown of the field, coupled with the players standing on the edge of it, make it nearly impossible to see the action.


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But the action that follows is fantastic, and I settle into a second barn burner of the day. For four quarters, the two ACC foes battle it out, trading the lead six times over the course of the game. One one side, the Georgia Tech option attack grinds the North Carolina defense into the pink accented bermuda grass (in honor of breast cancer awareness night). The Yellow Jackets rack up 376 yards of rushing in the process, a relentless attack that finally pays dividends late in the fourth quarter when tailback Deandre Smelter breaks a 75 yard run to take the lead. The gritty Yellow Jackets play tough, physical football for all four quarters.

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But the Tarheels have an answer each time. Dual threat quarterback Marquise Williams leads the charge, using his athleticism to fire four touchdowns on the night and rush for another. HIs final drive, however, proves the capstone on his huge night. He marches the Heels down the field on a 12 play, 75 yard drive, completing 6 of 7 passes while chewing the remaining three minutes off the clock. Finally, with nine ticks left on the clock, Carolina tailback T.J. Logan punches in the game winning touchdown on a two yard run and the heels walk away with an electric 48-43 win.

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Between the barnburner at Duke, and the last minute touchdown drive at North Carolina, I definitely got my moneys worth of football on this Saturday. Exhausted from the full day of pigskin, I muster the energy to trot over to the Top of the Hill pub on bustling Franklin Street – there’s still time to catch the second half of the epic Florida State vs Notre Dame game – if my heart can still take the excitement…


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NC State vs Clemson – Wolfpack defanged by the Tigers…

It’s barely twenty minutes after landing in Raleigh, North Carolina and I’m already bellied up to a BBQ counter.  I’m parked on a stool at the iconic Clyde Coopers BBQ on Davie Street in downtown Raleigh.  Dishing out epic Carolina style pork since 1938, the joint stands as the oldest continuously operated BBQ in the state of North Carolina.  The walls are covered in old BBQ photos and ancient wooden booths, worn smooth over decades of use, still have built in coat racks – relics of a bygone era. Sadly these artifacts are about to see the working end of a wrecking ball, however, as the current owners of the restaurant have been unable to come to terms with the developer that purchased the historic building.  As such, they will be forced to move the iconic location in a few months and try to salvage as much of the “feel” of the old place as they can.

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While the atmosphere has all the classic charm of 75 years of service, when my food arrives, it heartbreakingly disappoints.   Having spent a summer in Raleigh a few years before, this is particularly hard for me to reconcile, as Clyde’s held high esteem in my BBQ rolodex after a handful of visits.  But my BBQ palette has expanded quite a bit since those days, and the food here has declined from what I remember.  The chopped pork was minced so finely that it hardly resembled protein anymore, although a nice vinegary North Carolina style sauce helped bring it back to life.  The ribs arrived red sauced, presumably grilled, and absent any smoky flavor.  What’s more, they were incredibly tough and chewy.  I yanked them from the bone like a jackal tearing at a dead water buffalo hide.  Golden hush puppies and thick Brunswick stew were the highlights; a few items I wish would make it onto Texas BBQ menus.

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With a brilliant Thursday afternoon in front of me, I wander the streets of downtown Raleigh to get a feel for the city.  I stroll past the monolithic state capitol building, walkways shaded with magnificent live oaks and southern magnolias.  A bronze statue of Andrew Jackson, James Polk and Andrew Johnson honors the three North Carolina borne presidents on the main walkway, flanked by old mortars and cannons.  Through the trees, an inspiring 75ft tall granite obelisk pokes through the canopy, the carved inscription reading “To our Confederate Dead”.  It’s the Confederate Soldiers Monument dedicated to the North Carolinians sacrificed during the Civil War, a state responsible for nearly a quarter of all Confederate casualties.

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From there, I find my way into the cramped confines of the Roast Grill, a tiny Raleigh hot dog staple since 1940.  Little more than a linoleum countertop and stainless steel grill, they have only one thing on the menu here: hot dogs.  Your only choices are 1. How many you want (they are linear priced at $2.50 apeice according to the “menu”), 2. How burnt you want them, and 3. what you want on them.  I order two – one with mustard and onion, the other with the “works” – mustard, onion, chili and slaw.   Delightfully, ketchup is absent from their entire establishment, as their T-Shirt slogan proudly reads “No Ketchup”.  After my meal, an old lady that looks like she may have been here since day one rings up my tab on an ancient punch button cash register (this is a cash only establishment) and tosses me a free tootsie roll for dessert.  While the dogs are pretty average, the Roast Grill becomes an instant classic on my travels.

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IMG_0299I take a quick campus visit, admire the iconic NC State granite belltower for a few minutes, and then shoot west a couple miles on Hillsboro Avenue towards Carter Finley Stadium.  Carved into a stretch of southern yellow pine forest abutting Interstate 40, the stadium is unfortunately removed from the bustle of campus and downtown Raleigh.  PNC Arena, home to the NC State basketball squad, is also located within this massive athletic complex. As such, the stadium is surrounded by great swaths of pavement, gravel and grass lots, revealing a surprisingly robust tailgating scene.  Red tents stretch in every direction and the smell of smoked hog wafts enticingly around me.  I spot a few untended racks of ribs on a grill and, for a moment, consider a snatch and run. But rib rustlin’ isn’t looked on too kindly in these parts, and my Yankee brogue is unlikely to talk me out of a skirmish.  And after the eating I’ve already done today, I’m not outrunning anyone…

I mill around Dail Plaza on the North end of the stadium, haggling with a few scalpers to see what the going rates are.  With #3 Clemson in town they’re asking a pretty penny.  The first one, mistaking me for a rube, tosses out a $200 price tag for a single and sneers when I belligerently laugh in his face and walk away.   After a little hunting, I hammer a guy down to $50 bucks for a premium 50 yard line seat 20 rows up from the field; still under face value of $65.  As I take my seat, students continue to fill in the sections across the field, exchanging boisterous chants of “Wolf”…”Pack” back and forth while an eerie wolf howl booms over the loudspeakers.  A few NFL scouts ascend the steps from the field, each of them wearing plastic yellow “scout” badges with the respective team names across the front.  From the looks of it, the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs are all represented to inspect some of the ACC talent taking warm-ups on the field.

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As the national anthem concludes, four prop planes streak overhead, leaving trails of exhaust behind them.  The flyover is a nice touch, all too rare in these days of military spending cut backs. With more piped in wolf howling and an impressive pyrotechnics show, the Wolfpack squad comes streaming out of the tunnel to the cacophony of the now jam packed bleachers.   A few moments later, as the sun sets over Carter Finley Stadium, the pigskin is booted into the night air.  Electricity flows through the red garbed crowd at that moment, eager for their team to upset the highly ranked Clemson Tigers.

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True to form, the Wolfpack comes out snarling.  While the Clemson offense is able to move the ball, the NC State defense stiffens up in the red zone, holding the Tigers to field goals.  The pack defense further stymies Heisman hopeful quarterback Tajh Boyd, who tosses the ball errantly for incompletions and gets stuffed into the Bermuda turf for a couple of sacks.  At the end of the first half, a card stunt is performed and the silhouette of the Wolfpack logo forms across the East bleachers.  As the cards are turned over for the second stunt, it spells out “This is our State”.   The energized crowd continues their raucous support, at the end of the first half Clemson clutches to a thin 13-7 lead.

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Midway through the third quarter, with the NC State defense stifling Clemson and the Pack offense gaining momentum, a blown call seismically shifts the game.  NC State receiver Bryan Underwood grabs the ball on a reverse and streaks 83 yards down the field on a blistering touchdown run to seemingly knot the game at 13.  The crowd erupts in jubilation, high fives are exchanged, and, for a moment, the Wolfpack owns the momentum.  But the bungling referees whistled Underwood out of bounds at the 47 yard line, reversing the touchdown.  Adding further insult to injury, because the play was whistled dead, it is not reviewable by instant replay.  Despite the jumbotron flashing evidence that the touchdown should stand, State head coach Dave Doeren is powerless to toss his red challenge flag. NC State assumes the ball at the controversial 47 yard line.  Boos rain down from all corners of Carter Finley stadium, and a few drink cups are tossed into the air in protest.

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Three plays later, NC State quarterback Pete Thomas coughs the ball up on a sack and fumble recovery by the Tigers.  Clemson capitalizes a few plays later, punching in a touchdown for a two score lead.  Instead of a 13-13 tie ballgame and NC State pressing midway through the third quarter, the bad call and a few bad plays now result in a commanding 20-7 lead for Clemson.  The energy in Carter Finley visibly deflates, and the Tigers would never look back from that point.  While the NC State crowd would resume their raucous support in spurts on a pristine Thursday night, Clemson would eventually roll to a 26-14 victory, defending their lofty #3 ranking.

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