RALEIGH, N.C. -- Running Back T.A. McLendon rushed for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns as NC State came back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to defeat Wake Forest 27-21 in overtime.
For the Wolfpack, it was a tale of two halves. For Jay Davis, it was a statement.
NC State avenged last year's loss to the Demon Deacons, sealing the 27-21 win in overtime on a eight-yard McLendon touchdown run up the middle. McLendon tallied two touchdowns and on the day, but it was the junior quarterback Davis who stole the show.
After playing only two series in the first half, Davis played the rest of the game, finishing with 228 yards and completing 16 of 21 passes. Davis also threw a touchdown pass and had no interceptions.
In the first half, however, it didn't look like the day would end well for the Wolfpack.
The Wolfpack's vaunted top-ranked defense was unable to contain Wake's misdirection rushing game in the first half, as the Deacons jumped out to a 14-0 lead at halftime. Wake's rushing attack, which had been averaging over 240 yards a game, stayed true to form to start the game, compiling 20 carries for 110 yards in first half. Running back Chris Barclay starred in the half, proving elusive as he juked and darted for 63 yards on 12 carries.
Said Barclay, "I've been hearing about their defense, being ranked number one and all... but quite frankly, I'm tired of it. They put on their cleats like everyone else. They're good... they have some good athletes, but they're not supermen." Added Barclay, "As far as I'm concerned, I think we had a pretty good day, as far as offense goes. We had over 200 yards rushing, that's not bad."
Turnovers and penalties continued to harm the Pack, including nine penalties for 66 yards for the game. Marcus Stone, who entered the game at quarterback on the third series as planned, threw a costly interception at the NC State 22-yard line on his first pass of the game, resulting in Wake's first score. Wake defensive back Marcus McGruder easily stepped in front of Stone's softly thrown six-yard out and waltzed in, giving Wake a 7-0 lead.
Wake would then display the kind of quarterback depth NC State might envy, as highly touted red-shirt freshman Ben Mauk replaced Randolph at quarterback for the final two series in the first half, and was immediately effective. On his first drive, Maulk led the Deacs 53 yards in 12 plays to set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Micah Andrews. On the drive Maulk converted several mid-yardage third downs, and displayed an ability to run with the ball similar to starting QB Randolph, rushing for 14 yards.
The Wolfpack coaches gave Stone more opportunities after the interception, continuing to play him through the half for four series, compared to two for incumbent starter Jay Davis. It was on the third series that Stone made a positive impact. The drive was made up almost solely of rushing plays, including two rushes for 10 yards by Stone, one a gutsy, dodging sprint up the middle for six yards, in which Stone dove for the first down. State's misfortune would continue, however. State called its only pass play on the drive, a long pass play on 3rd and three at the Wake 33 yard line, which fell incomplete. That set up a 43-yard field goal attempt, but kicker John Deraney would miss the kick wide left.
After the defense managed to stop Mauk's next Wake drive, Stone returned with more mixed results. On a 8-yard out to T.A. McLendon at the far side of the field with no defenders within 10 yards of him, Stone badly overthrew the toss into the Wake bench, and was greeted with a chorus of boos from the stands. On Stone's next pass, the first time State would pass on first down in the game, he completed a 18-yard laser up the middle to Lamart Barrett, prompting a raucous standing ovation from the capacity crowd at Carter-Finley.
Stone was unable to put the Pack on the board before the half ended.
In the second half, however, Jay Davis returned, and what a return it was.
Passing with precision and poise, Davis made a statement as the Pack committed to throwing the ball in the second half. And not just throwing the ball, throwing the ball downfield. On the first drive of the game, Jay Davis completed a 20-yard pass to red-shirt junior Sterling Hicks, who showed the crowd that his knee is indeed fully healed as he weaved his way between Wake tacklers 62 yards for a game-breaking touchdown.
The defense matched the offense's intensity on Wake's first series, with two tackles for losses to force a three-and-out. State got the ball on their 50-yard line, and Davis again rocked the Carter-Finley faithful by launching a 50-yard touchdown completion to Richard Washington. However, the Pack's penalty problems re-emerged, and the crowd's energy was deflated as the touchdown was called back.
In what Amato called the biggest play of the game, Davis found Tramain Hall open across the middle on 3rd and 31, resulting in a 58-yard completion and first and goal. McLendon's first score of the day tied the game at 14-14, and the 2004 edition of the NC State offense was officially alive.
The Wolfpack fired on all cylinders in the third quarter, as the offense held the ball for all but two minutes of the quarter. Thanks to quietly efficient rushing by State's platoon of running backs, newly precise passing of Davis, and not least of all, total domination by the top-ranked defense, as Wake finished with zero yards in the third quarter.
State would score on every drive in the quarter, including an 11-play 66-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes of clock, and was capped by a three-yard touchdown run by true freshman Bobby Washington, the first of his career. Up 21-14, the Pack was in a groove and had the Demon Deacons reeling. Things were quite different from the first half, as in the third quarter alone the Wolfpack racked up 206 yards of total offense, compared to just 125 in the entire first half.
Grobe said following the game that the Deacons could never get out of the hole in the third quarter, and that ended up being their downfall.
NC State's newly dangerous passing game opened things up even more for the running game. In the first half, the Pack only completed six of 13 passes for 34 yards. In the third quarter, Davis was 6 of 6 for 151 yards, and McLendon and Washington combined for 73 yards on 12 attempts.
McLendon looked healthy as ever, knocking around Deacon defenders right and left throughout the game. McLendon, who totaled 139 yards on 30 carries for the day, also totaled three helmet-extracting smackdowns of would-be Wake tacklers. One of those tacklers was All-ACC cornerback Eric King, who left the game in the third quarter with a concussion.
But in the fourth quarter, Wake proved it would not go down easily. After NC State coach Chuck Amato opted not to go for it on fourth and one at Wake 44-yard line, Maulk the led the Deacs on an 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive to tie the game on another Andrews one-yard touchdown plunge.
Sparked by a gritty 25-yard kickoff return by Marcus Hudson, the Pack quickly struck back, driving upfield to the Wake 17. Facing third and seven, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone opted not to play it safe and call a run to place the ball in the center of the field for a field goal, instead staying aggressive and calling a pass play from the shotgun formation. However, Davis' pass to the end zone was nearly intercepted by Wake's McGruder and forced fourth down. With the ball placed on the right hash mark Deraney needed to make the 27-yard chip shot to give the Pack the lead, but the kick missed wide right.
NC State's defense would hold strong though and set the stage for the Pack offense. On 3rd and 10 at the Wake 31, A.J. Davis, Pat Thomas, and Dwayne Herndon combined to sack Maulk, much to the delight of the crowd.
Jay Davis would have one more chance to lead the Pack on a game-winning drive, as State would get the ball back near their own 30 with 53 seconds left. But the Deacon defense would hold strong, and NC State couldn't get the ball into field goal range, forcing overtime.
In overtime, NC State's defense stepped up and forced Wake to attempt a 34-yard field goal, which Wake kicker Matt Wisnoksky drilled into the left goal post.
NC State's plan on their possession was simple, feed McLendon. A workhorse all day, T.A. carried four times in overtime, including the game-winner from 8-yards out that gave the Wolfpack the 27-21 victory.
The win gives NC State a 3-1 record on the season and improves them to 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Wake Forest fell to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the ACC.
The Wolfpack faces North Carolina next weekend in Chapel Hill while Wake hosts the Virginia Tech Hokies.