North Carolina then was forced to punt, and T.J. Graham took it back 87 yards for a touchdown and a 24-19 lead the team would never relinquish. It marked Graham's first punt return for a touchdown -- he's taken back two kicks -- and couldn't have come at a better time.
Those were just a couple of wrinkles in a game that had it all, including a pair of ejections. Wolfpack wide receiver Jarvis Williams got into a fracas with UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick after Spencer's touchdown, and both were tossed.
The win moved Tom O'Brien to 4-0 against North Carolina and Butch Davis in his career at State. It also leaves the Wolfpack with an 8-3 record, already the most victories in his tenure in Raleigh.
But the biggest effect will be seen this weekend. N.C. State faces a Maryland team that just had its own title hopes ripped away by Florida State on Saturday night in a tough 30-16 decision. Ironically, the Seminoles became Terrapin fans as soon as the game ended, since they get into the ACC title game if Maryland upsets the Wolfpack on Saturday.
--North Carolina State is in rarified air with its four-game winning streak against North Carolina. It's just the second time in program history that the Pack has won four in a year over the Heels -- it won five in a row from 1988 to 1992.
--WR T.J. Graham had never taken a punt return for a touchdown before his 87-yard score against North Carolina. He was one of the league's top kickoff returners his first two years at the school, but has had a hard time making as big of an impact as a junior -- until Saturday, that is.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Owen Spencer -- Spencer led the Wolfpack with five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown, of course, was on the fourth-and-2 pass that was batted around before falling into Spencer's arms, and it was the momentum-changing play that brought NCSU to within 19-17.
KEEP AN EYE ON: S Earl Wolff -- The redshirt sophomore had another big game for the Wolfpack, with 13 tackles and one of the team's seven sacks. He has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the secondary. Moreover, his sack forced the UNC punt that led to T.J. Graham's 87-yard punt return to paydirt.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all grew up together. Playing ball. Going to school together. Family. Cousins. All that goes into a rivalry game. You know when you get old, when you sit down at your house with your family and friends, and other teammates, you'll say, 'We beat y'all. Four times." -- North Carolina State WR Owen Spencer, in the Raleigh News & Observer, about his friendship with North Carolina senior Kendric Burney.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: North Carolina State shut down the Tar Heels' running game, and the Wolfpack held UNC to minus-7 yards on the ground, including the sacks of T.J. Yates. State's defense also deserves credit for holding firm early in the game and holding the Tar Heels to field goals. That meant UNC kicker Casey Barth had a big game, with four field goals, but those missed opportunities wound up costing North Carolina the game.
STILL NEEDS WORK: UNC QB T.J. Yates has torched a lot of teams this season, and he added the Wolfpack to that list. Yates threw for 411 yards and a pair of touchdowns, completing 33 of 44 passes.
-- State is going to have to figure out how to run the ball in the offseason, because it is two games away from going through the entire season without managing a 100-yard rusher. James Washington led the team on Saturday with 45 yards in 12 carries.
-- WR Jarvis Williams was ejected from the North Carolina game in the third quarter after an altercation with UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick.
-- PK Josh Czajkoswki was expected to be out for the season with an injured hamstring, but he was back just two weeks after suffering the injury against Clemson. He made both of his kicks, a 47-yarder and a 24-yarder, and was 3-for-3 on extra points.
-- WR Darrell Davis was back on the field after missing the previous two games because of a coach's decision. He had three catches for 11 yards, one of which was a 2-yard touchdown reception.