The Wolfpack used a suffocating defense, a MVP performance from Russell Wilson, and three Josh Czajkowski field goals to pick up its ninth win of 2010, the second highest total in school history and the 100th of Tom O'Brien's coaching career.
"Certainly we're excited about the opportunity to win this football game," O'Brien said. "West Virginia is a great team, they had won nine games and would have been deserving I think of going to a BCS game from their conference. "There are three schools in our conference that had opportunities to play ranked teams [in bowl games] and we were one of them. Getting the ninth win is huge for this program."
Going into an offseason full of questions, most notably whether or not Russell Wilson will return for his senior season, O'Brien said Tuesday night's win was a perfect example of the type of team NC State has become.
"It shows progress, not only in our state but across the nation that our football team is definitely on the rise and headed in the right direction," O'Brien said of the win. "Any time you can knock somebody out of the top 25 somebody else has to go back in and I hope that we did enough on TV tonight that we might attract enough votes. I think this team is deserving to be a top 25 team at the end of the year."
NC State's defense, which had struggled in its final two games of the regular season, kept West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith on the run for much of the night, forcing poor throws and quick decisions despite only sacking Smith twice. Linebacker Terrell Manning said the constant pressure kept Smith guessing.
"It was very important. When we came out and we noticed that we were rattling him a little bit we stuck to our guns and he kept folding," Manning said. "He wanted to get out of the pocket more and we knew from the game plan that is not what he wanted to do."
On the other side of the ball, Wilson ran just enough to be effective against a West Virginia defense designed to pressure the quarterback. In what could have been his last game at NC State, Wilson finished the 2010 season a high note, going 28 of 45 passing for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson also ran 14 times for 41 yards against a West Virginia defense ranked near the top of the NCAA in several major categories. NC State's 23 points were the most West Virginia allowed all season.
"Their defense did a great job the whole night and we knew it was going to be a battle," he said. "We had a great offense and they have a great defense, it was going to be a showdown and we knew it. We were ready for it, Coach O'Brien and the staff got us really ready for the game the past month."
NC State got on the board with 1:37 left in the first quarter when Russell Wilson hit Mustafa Greene on a 16-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10 play, 86-yard drive. Wilson went 7 of 9 on the drive for 79 yards and the touchdown as the Wolfpack to a 7-0 lead on the Mountaineers at the end of what proved to be a dominant first quarter.
The Mountaineers evened the score with 2:10 left in the first half when Geno Smith hit Stedman Bailey for a 32-yard touchdown pass, but a 45-yard field goal by Josh Czajkowski -- the first of three on the night -- gave the Pack a 10-7 lead going into the half.
After punting on the opening possession of the second half, NC State added two more field goals -- from 38 and 40 yards -- to push the lead to 16-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Czajokwski's 40-yard field goal with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter -- his 20th of the 2010 season -- tied Marc Primanti's school record, set in 1996.
With the game still hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter, NC State's defense took full advantage of numerous miscues by the Mountaineers. West Virginia turned the ball over four times in the final quarter -- three fumbles and one interception -- and missed a field goal which could have made NC State's lead six with less than eight minutes to play.
The Wolfpack put an exclamation point on the victory with 3:55 to play in the game when Russell Wilson hit Jarvis Williams in the back of the end zone from seven yards out.
The pass capped a terrific junior season for Wilson, who totaled 37 touchdowns which tied the school and ACC record set by Philip Rivers in 2003. Now the big question is about the future of the Wolfpack's star quarterback. However, O'Brien didn't want Wilson or the team focusing on that after the huge win.
"We're not going to answer any questions about the future, we're going to enjoy tonight," said O'Brien. "It's been a great. We'll decide sometime here in the next week or so. We'll get together and figure it out but it's going to be what is best for Russell. That's what the decision is going to be so let's forget about that and let's enjoy what we have to do tonight."