At that moment Tom O'Brien told the Wolfpack it would have to ‘scratch and claw' to get back in the game. His team listened.
"He gave us a good pep talk," freshman Mustafa Greene said. "He just came out and said straight up – ‘claw, scratch - do whatever you have to do to put some more points on the board and stop their offense.'"
The Pack rallied – scratching and clawing the whole way – scoring 14 unanswered points in the third quarter as Russell Wilson ran fearlessly through the No. 16 Florida State defense for two scores. Then in the fourth quarter O'Brien made one of the gutsiest calls of his tenure – going for it on 4th down and less than a yard with the Pack down three points. When Wilson hit a wide-open George Bryan in the end zone, O'Brien's gamble looked like a stroke of genius.
But with 2:40 left on the clock, the Pack still needed a big play from its defense. The Seminoles marched all the way to the Pack 4-yard line and looked poised to score the go-ahead touchdown. The Pack decided to gamble again – sending a big blitz after Christian Ponder. The Seminole quarterback panicked, lost control of the ball and moments later an ecstatic NC State was celebrating a 28-24 victory and its place at the top of the Atlantic Division.
"Sometimes as a football team we aren't pretty," O'Brien said. "We just grind it out and grind it out."
No one chipped away at the Seminoles in the second half better than Greene. The freshman running back was the workhorse for the Pack after Dean Haynes left the game with a concussion. Greene carried the ball 17 times for 76 hard fought yards, keeping the ball out of Ponder's hands in the process.
Wilson also guided the team down the field with both his arm and his legs, running for 69 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing the game-winner to Bryan. Wilson finished with just 178 yards passing but came away with the biggest win of his career.
"I just try to do what the defense gives me," Wilson said. "If its there, I'll take it. If it's not I'll try to find something else."
After a three-and-out by the Seminoles to start the game, the Wolfpack put together an impressive drive for a score. The Pack pounded the ball on the ground, taking 12 plays to move 55 yards for a score. The Pack picked up two big third-down conversions through the air on the drive before Wilson scored from 1-yard out on a sneak to give the Pack a 7-0 lead early.
Florida State got its best scoring opportunity of the 1st quarter when a Bert Reed returned a punt into Wolfpack territory. But the Seminoles couldn't stop tripping over their own feet on the drive, erasing a fist down conversion and a touchdown with penalties before being forced to punt. Neither team was able to threaten during the rest of the quarter.
The Seminoles managed to tie it up in the second quarter though, as the Noles finally managed to pick up first downs without committing penalties. The big play for the Noles came in the form of a 34-yard run right up the middle by Ty Jones. The Seminoles finished off the drive with a run by Ponder, who was ruled down at the 1-yard line originally but was overturned when replay showed he touched the pylon before going out of bounds.
The Noles would score again after taking advantage of a huge mistake by the Pack. Dean Haynes fumbled the ball on the first play of the Pack drive after Ponder's first touchdown run, giving the Seminoles the ball back on the Pack's 18-yard line. A few plays later, Ponder would run untouched for the second Seminole touchdown in a two-minute span.
Florida State would add yet another touchdown, its third in a seven-minute span, after a short-lived NC State possession ended in a punt. The Seminoles marched methodically down the field, getting another big run from Jones, chewing up most of the remaining time in the half in the process. They would score on a Ponder pass to Willie Haulstead with 47 seconds left in the half. The Pack couldn't make any progress with three timeout left in the final minute, taking a 21-7 deficit into the locker room.
Coming out of the half, the Pack found a new life. They started with a punishing drive on offense, giving the ball to Greene seven times for a combined 39 yards to get into the red zone. The Pack ended the drive when Wilson saw a hole up the middle of the field and scored his second rushing touchdown from 10 yards out to make it 21-14.
The Pack got the ball back two plays later thanks to a huge defensive play, as Ponder fumbled the ball while pulling his arm back to pass. After a review, the initial fumble ruling stood and the Pack had the ball deep in Florida State territory. Wilson once again took advantage, scrambling for yet another touchdown – this time from 20 yards out - to tie the game.
Wilson wasn't perfect though, as a the Pack was driving early in the fourth quarter and looked poised to put more points on the board. Wilson completed an improbably 3rd and 22 conversion on a bomb to Jarvis Williams, but two plays later he threw a gift to the Florida State defense – his first interception of the night. The Seminoles drove down the field after the turnover before stalling out in the red zone, but still managed a 31-yard field goal to take a 24-21 lead.
But the Pack responded with the game-winning drive. Wilson converted on a 4th and four just outside of field goal range, hitting Darrell Davis on a slant that the wide receiver took all the way to the 1-yard line. The Seminoles then stuffed three straight run attempts and the Pack sent out the field goal unit. But with the play clock ticking down, O'Brien called timeout and sent out the offense. A few moments later, Wilson hit a wide open George Bryan for a touchdown to take a 28-24 lead with 2:40 remaining.
"Dana kept saying ‘we're six inches, we're six inches'," O'Brien said.
The Seminoles marched down the field with relative ease after getting the ball back, getting all the way to the Pack 4-yard line. But with a touchdown seemingly inevitable, Ponder lost the ball and Nate Irving jumped on it to give the Pack possession and its biggest win in a long time.