SHREVEPORT, La. — Jaylen Samuels caught three touchdown passes from Ryan Finley, Nyheim Hines returned a kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown and North Carolina State beat Vanderbilt 41-17 on Monday night in the Independence Bowl.
North Carolina State (7-6) won three of its final four games to finish with a winning record. The Wolfpack built a 28-3 lead by midway through the third quarter — largely thanks to Samuels' touchdown catches of 9, 55 and 17 yards — and then held off a brief Vanderbilt rally.
Samuels' three touchdown catches were an Independence Bowl record. Finley, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 235 yards, hit Samuels six times for 104 yards.
"Just give him the ball in as many ways possible," Finley said.
North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said Samuels' big night wasn't necessarily planned, but when Vanderbilt loaded the defense to stop the run, he was the man who was open.
"We were just taking what they were giving us," Doeren said. "And then our receivers did a great job of blocking for him."
Vanderbilt (6-7) had a lot of momentum going into the game thanks to surprising wins over Mississippi and Tennessee to end the regular season. But the Commodores' offense — which scored a combined 83 points against the Rebels and Volunteers — struggled for most of the night.
"We looked a little rusty," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. "All the way around — special teams, offense and defense. We just didn't look like the Vanderbilt team that came out of the regular season."
Vanderbilt's Kyle Shurmur completed just 19 of 46 passes for 158 yards and three interceptions.
"There's a fine line between being aggressive and careless," Shurmur said. "And I crossed it a few times."
Even so, the Commodores briefly made things interesting, closing to 28-17 early in the fourth quarter. But that's when Hines responded his big kickoff return to put the game out of reach.