CHAPEL HILL — This is how it was supposed to be all along.
This is how it was supposed to be for the kid out of Southern Guilford who built his reputation as one of the nation’s best high school running backs, scoring 52 touchdowns his senior season and finishing his career with more than 7,000 yards before heading to N.C. State.
This is how it was supposed to be before the knee and the ankle and the gallbladder and the NFL running backs on the depth chart got in the way.
But that’s not how it was for Reggie Gallaspy Jr., who had to battle his banged-up body and playing time and even his own expectations while he waited his turn for the Wolfpack (5-3 ACC, 8-3), finally becoming State’s feature back this season.
In the 44th game of what will be a 46-game career at State, the old workhorse delivered his finest performance with a career-high five touchdowns and 129 yards on 27 carries as the Wolfpack edged North Carolina 34-28 in overtime Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
Gallaspy was introspective after his final rivalry win, reflecting on the long road from his much-celebrated arrival at State, to battling injuries while receiving just 115 carries over his first two seasons and finally breaking through as a senior.
“Things didn’t pan out like you wanted them to, coming in as a freshman,” he said. “You expect to do things early on for the university and things didn’t happen like that for me, but I just trusted the process and believed in God and leaned on my brothers.”
All season long, it’s been obvious that Gallaspy had a hand in helping change the Wolfpack’s culture for the better. The soft-spoken bruiser doesn’t talk a big game, instead letting his work speak.
Through the knee and ankle injuries that have nagged him from his freshman year, Gallaspy kept fighting. He kept fighting this spring when gallbladder surgery kept him off the field. He kept battling to help his team, even as he balanced football, schoolwork and fatherhood, as he and his girlfriend welcomed a daughter in 2016.
Through it all, Gallaspy never wavered.
“It’s never easy for those guys when they first get to any school and they they’re not playing as much as they want to,” State coach Dave Doeren said. “He understood his role and knew his time was coming, and look at what he’s doing; he’s capitalizing on his moment, and that’s the best thing … when a guy takes his opportunity and seizes it like he is right now.”
On Saturday, it was all on Gallaspy to deliver a third straight win over Carolina, carrying 10 times in the third and fourth quarters before he ran it six times on State’s seven overtime snaps, including his 1-yard leap into the end zone to seal the win.
Staring at the end of his career, there was no way Gallaspy was giving up the ball — even on a rainy, 40-degree day that left his jersey caked in mud and grass stains.
“Having all those things that happened to me, you want the ball in your hands,” he said.
Fitting, then, that it was Gallaspy who tied a school record on his fifth touchdowns as his teammates mobbed him in the end zone.
“They respect me because no matter how down I get on myself, how hurt I am, I’ll do whatever it takes for them,” Gallaspy said. “I love them boys, I love Coach Doeren, Coach (Des) Kitchens, all the coaching staff, the whole university. They’ve done a lot for me, so I feel like I’ve got to do a lot for them.”
This was more than a celebration of a touchdown or a victory; it was a celebration of Gallaspy’s journey at State — a journey in which he gave the Wolfpack something more important than any five-touchdown day could deliver.
Sure, things didn’t always go to plan at State for Gallaspy the football player.
But maybe they went even better than could have ever been expected for Gallaspy the father, the leader and the man.
“I hope my boys have the same heart he has when they get older, because that kid is 100 percent heart,” Doeren said. “He’s tough, he won’t be denied … he’s so mentally and physically there, playing for his daughter. Has it all together right now, and you’re not going to stop that guy. … It was fun having The Bus rolling today.”
N.C. State 34, North Carolina 28
N.C. State 7 0 14 7 6 — 34
North Carolina 0 6 15 7 0 — 28
NCST–Gallaspy 1 run (C.Dunn kick), 9:09
NC–FG F.Jones 24, 13:07
NC–FG F.Jones 43, 3:16
NCST–Gallaspy 4 run (C.Dunn kick), 9:21
NC–Corrales 37 pass from Fortin (F.Jones kick), 8:03
NCST–Gallaspy 34 run (C.Dunn kick), 3:58
NC–J.Williams 8 run (C.Tucker pass from Fortin), 1:31
NC–Fortin 1 run (F.Jones kick), 9:29
NCST–Gallaspy 5 run (C.Dunn kick), 6:00
NCST–Gallaspy 1 run, :00
First downs 22 19
Rushes-yards 48-206 35-153
Passing 200 276
Comp-Att-Int 16-29-1 19-40-1
Return Yards 0 80
Punts-Avg. 8-34.5 6-34.66
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-35 3-40
Time of Possession 32:46 27:14
RUSHING–NC State, Gallaspy 27-129, Person 16-66, Bradbury 0-8, Finley 5-3. North Carolina, J.Williams 16-83, J.Brown 9-43, Fortin 7-15, Ratliff-Williams 1-8, M.Carter 1-2, Newsome 1-2.
PASSING–NC State, Thomas 0-1-0-0, Finley 16-28-1-200. North Carolina, Fortin 19-40-1-276.
RECEIVING–NC State, Meyers 7-111, Harmon 3-54, Thomas 3-28, Emezie 2-7, Gallaspy 1-0. North Carolina, Newsome 6-91, Corrales 4-61, Ratliff-Williams 2-76, D.Brown 2-25, Groves 1-13, M.Carter 1-5, J.Williams 1-3, J.Brown 1-1, C.Tucker 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS–North Carolina, F.Jones 37.