After forcing a Florida State punt, North Carolina State took over at their own 49 yard line for their first possession. The Wolkpack went on a 12 play touchdown drive which included three third conversions and they led 7-0. The teams traded punts (four in a row for FSU) until the Nole offense found their rhythm.
With 11:40 to go in second quarter FSU began a brilliant stretch of the game with a drive that began at their own 25:
--The 'Nole defense allowed one first down, but forced back to back incompletions by Russell Wilson for another 'Pack punt. FSU took over at their own 28 and Ponder again went to Reed for back to back completions. And again Jones busted off a big run of 22 yards to get the NCSU 23. Four plays later Ponder threw a strike to Willie Haulstead for an 11 yard touchdown. 21-7 FSU.
That was the way the half ended and everything seemed to be going as planned.
The third quarter opened with the Wolfpack getting a burst of life from freshmen Running Back Mustafa Green who essentially combined with Wilson to march down the field in 13 plays. Wilson finished it off with an 10 yard run up in the middle. 21-14 FSU.
KEY PLAY #1 The first of several close plays was the real turning point in the game. Ponder dropped back to pass and was hit as he had begun to throw the football. It was very close--the type that can go either way--it was ruled a fumble and three plays later it was Wilson again darting threw the middle of the field for a touchdown. 21-21 and momentum had clearly swung to the home team.
The Seminole's needed to get a drive going and that is precisely what they did. Ponder hit Lonnie Pryor for a nine yard gain and once again Jones busted off big yardage, this time for 33 yards. Now inside the 50, FSU stalled on first and second down(an ill advised reverse to A.J. Alexander), KEY PLAY#2 but on third down Ponder delivered a strike to Haulstead who flat dropped it. It was a first down gain and would have gotten FSU well within the range of Dustin Hopkins.
The 'Pack offense immediately got to work with more Green and Wilson picking up yards with their feet. The drive exposed some depth problems on the defense as they had now spent a large percentage of the second half on the field. Early in the fourth KEY PLAY #3 Xavier Rhodes saved the day with an interception at the FSU five yard line and he returned it 23 yards.
On the ensuing drive, FSU found themselves in a 3rd and 20 after a holding penalty. Reed made a huge play on a catch where he traversed the field and picked up 30 yards. Two plays later Chris Thompson got outside for a 26 yard gain. After runs by Thompson and Jones, it was 3rd and 3 at the NCSU 19. KEY PLAY #4 Ponder went on a designed run and had the first down, but tried to get outside(and perhaps score), but was cut down. This forced FSU to kick a field goal. 24-21 FSU.
Could the tired FSU defense get a stop? The answer turned out to be "no". But it was not for lack of effort. After nickel and diming their way to the FSU 36, NCSU faced a 4th and 4. KEY PLAY #5 FSU got caught getting aggressive and Wilson found Darrell Davis for a 35 yard gain. Lamarcus Joyner hawked him down for what could have been a HUGE play. The reason was that FSU almost pulled off the goal line stand. Alas, it was not to be as NCSU converted on 4th down to take the lead 28-24.
Ponder moved the ball with ease on the ensuing drive including big gainers to Haulstead(16 yards) and Taiwan Easterling(29 yards). Ponder picked up eight yards on a 3rd and five, it looked like he was going to have his senior moment. However two plays later a fluke fumble ended the game. With plenty of time, time-outs remaining, and three plays it was right there for the taking.
The toughest kind of losses are the ones where you know you are the better team. That is what happened tonight. It is what it is.
The loss puts North Carolina State in the drivers seat in the division and brings hope to Clemson and Maryland who are both still in the race. There will not be any more margin of error for FSU; they will need to beat North Carolina, Clemson, and Maryland to have a shot at the ACC Title and a BCS Bowl Game.