Defense Leads Pack Past Knights, 28-21

ORLANDO, FL -- The NC State defense forced five turnovers, including a fumble recovery in the final minute, to hold on for a 28-21 win at BH Networks Stadium on Saturday night.

NC State went into the fourth quarter holding a 21-point advantage. But with one minute remaining, the lead was down to seven and Central Florida was driving for the tie.

But the Pack defense, which had come up with big plays all night long, had one more left. Brandon Bishop nailed Knights receiver Quincy McDuffie inside the Pack's 20-yard line, knocking the ball lose and the Pack recovered. The Pack would take a knee from there, escaping Orlando with a 28-21 victory. It's the first time the Pack has started 2-0 since the 2002 season.

It was just the end to an incredible night for the Pack defense, which finished with five forced turnovers. The Pack had three interceptions, including one that C.J. Wilson returned for a touchdown, and also forced two fumbles on the night. Linebacker Audie Cole led the way with 12 tackles, three for loss, one sack and an interception.

"I think it was a breakout game for Audie," NC State head coach Tom O'Brien stated. "We had seen him, but it hasn't materialized on the field. He did a great job. If we had to do it all over again we would have put him on the field and rushed him because Nate [Irving] was dead. Three or four times he was out of gas and couldn't make the play. We have got severe problems getting ready to play Thursday night thanks to the ACC."

The Pack offense needed every one of those big plays, as the unit failed to score a point in the second half. The team found success with the running game, rushing for over 100 yards in the first half and scoring three times. But the offensive line struggled against the aggressive defense of the Knights in the second half, as quarterback Russell Wilson took a beating en route to one of his worst performances. The junior finished 10-of-30 for 105 yards and one touchdown.

After punting on its first offensive possession, the Pack picked up a big play from its defense to help spark its offense. The Pack grabbed an interception when J.R. Sweezy tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage and Earl Wolff nabbed it out of the air and returned it into Knight's territory. With good field position, the offense went to the ground game as Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene combined for 33 yards included the 4-yard touchdown run from Haynes to give the Pack a 7-0 lead.

The Pack defense forced Florida into a three-and-out, giving the offense another chance to attack on the ground. But Wilson also began to find a groove on the first drive of the second quarter, going 4-for-4 and hitting a wide-open Darrell Davis in the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.

The offense got another break when a Jeff Ruiz punt bounced off a Florida player and was recovered by the Pack. Two plays later, the Pack took a 21-point lead with a 21-yard run on 3rd-and-11. The lead didn't last for long though, as Central's McDuffie returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-7. A missed field goal by the Knight's would keep the lead at 14 for the Pack going into the half.

Both teams came out of the locker room and struggled defensively. The teams exchanged three straight punts before the Pack defense came up with another big play. Audie Cole intercepted a pass to give the Pack the ball near mid-field, sniffing out a long pass and running across the field for the pick. The Pack failed to capitalize though, as Wilson continued to take heavy pressure from the Florida defense and completed just 1-of-4 passes on the drive before punting.

But the defense kept making big plays for the Pack. This time they didn't even give the offense a chance to convert, as C.J. Wilson picked off a pass and skated down the sidelines for a 43-yard return touchdown to give the Pack a three touchdown advantage.

Central Florida refused to go away, finding new life with back-up quarterback Jeff Godfrey. The duel-threat quarterback led the Knights down the field for its first offensive touchdown, scoring on a 6-yard run around the left edge to cut the Pack's lead to 28-14.

Godfrey scored again from 1-yard out two possessions later for the Knights, making the lead just seven points with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But Bishop's forced fumble in the final minutes halted hopes of a 21-point comeback for the Pack, which won its second-straight game to start the season.

"That was a heck of a win for our team," said O'Brien. "I thought we had things under control until the freshman [Jeff Godfrey came in] with fresh legs. We had all kinds of problems. We got guys free trying to contain him and couldn't. We had dead legs and he had fresh legs. It was a tough night for us that way. The defense hung in there and a couple of big, big turnovers ended up being the difference in the football game. With that we are ready to head home because we have to play Thursday night and we are up against the clock."

NC State (2-0) headed home after the game and must begin to prepare right away for a tough Thursday night matchup against reigning Big East Champion Cincinnati (1-1).

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