RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Notre Dame had started the season with little on-field stress and even less drama. That's one reason why coach Marcus Freeman was so pleased with the way his 10th-ranked Fighting Irish responded to playing on the road in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
Audric Estime ran for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play after an extended weather delay and Sam Hartman three of his four scores after halftime to help Notre Dame beat North Carolina State 45-24 on Saturday, earning yet another win against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
Estime ran for 134 yards and two scores, including a 7-yard run through traffic with 10:42 left that put the Fighting Irish (3-0) in firm control after leading just 24-17 entering the final quarter.
“I think it’s a sign of a mature football team,” Freeman said.
Notre Dame has now won 29 straight regular-season matchups against ACC teams in its scheduling partnership with the conference as a football independent but a member in all other league sports.
For Hartman, the sixth-year passer who transferred from Wake Forest, it was a familiar foe, too. The Demon Deacons were every-year instate opponents for the Wolfpack in the ACC’s former divisional format, and Hartman was 0-2 in Raleigh — including last November while taking four sacks.
This time, Hartman’s team played from in front the entire way, and he threw for three scores after halftime as the Fighting Irish finally began to pull away. The last was a 35-yard score to tight end Holden Staes — who also had a 40-yard scoring catch in the third — with 4:35 left that pushed the margin to 45-17.
He also shook off a fumble on a sack that set up N.C. State with a short field late in the third quarter, but the Irish defense held and the Wolfpack missed a short field goal.
“He's a competitor,” Freeman said of Hartman. “He wants to get it fixed. There was no panic.”
Brennan Armstrong ran for a score and threw for two more for N.C. State (1-1), but he threw three interceptions and the Wolfpack got little rushing production beyond his 26 yards. His 9-yard pass to Bradley Rozner with 1:16 left before halftime marked the first touchdown Notre Dame had given up this year after allowing just a field goal in each romp against Navy and Tennessee State.
“Every time we got in that game and made it a game, within one possession, they responded,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. "That’s what good teams do, and we had our opportunities throughout that football game.”
Notre Dame: This wasn't as easy as the score indicated much of the way. But Estime's long run along with a 65-yard catch-and-run play by Chris Tyree — whom the Wolfpack lost track of behind coverage — that led to a TD just before halftime proved critical big plays. Notre Dame finished with 456 total yards and gradually asserted control, including interceptions on consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter in turning a one-possession game into a blowout.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack won the opener against Connecticut by leaning heavily on Armstrong's legs in a low-volume passing game with no clear-cut top receiving threat. That scenario happened again, with Wolfpack receivers making some big plays but often struggling to create separation and much of a window for Armstrong to throw. That was illustrated by some drops and a major fourth-quarter mistake by K.C. Concepcion, who had a pass slip through his hands, hit him in the facemask and bounce to Notre Dame's Xavier Watts to set up a short field and one of Hartman's TD tosses.
“We just put our defense in terrible situations and never helped them out,” Armstrong said.
Notre Dame winning on the road by steadily building a lead should help keep its position in the next AP Top 25, if not inch up with losses ahead of the Irish.
LONG WAIT, FAST START
The game included a 1-hour, 45-minute weather and lightning delay with Notre Dame leading 3-0 at the 14:45 mark of the second quarter. Freeman even had hot dogs brought in for players to eat to stay ready.
Estime said he just had one. Turns out that was plenty.
Once the teams returned, he burst through a big hole on the right side and pulled away from defenders for the 80-yard score that was a quick jolt of energy for the Irish after the long wait.
“That was just the result of everyone staying ready,” Estime said.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish return home for the third time in four games to host Central Michigan on Saturday.
N.C. State: VMI visits the Wolfpack on Saturday in a nonconference matchup.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll