Despite rolling up 438 yards of total offense and 311 yards through the air, NC State couldn't capitalize on a chance to make a huge statement against the highly-ranked Hokies.
The Wolfpack started the scoring on its opening drive, as sophomore tailback Darrell Blackman's 25-yard touchdown run put NC State on top 7-0 midway through the first quarter. With the Wolfpack showcasing the west-coast offense under new coordinator Marc Trestman, Virginia Tech had problems matching up with NC State's skill-position players, but penalties hampered several Wolfpack drives and keyed the scoring drives of the Hokies.
Following Blackman's touchdown, Virginia Tech roared down and scored on its next possession, as Mike Imoh's 5-yard touchdown run tied the score at 7-7 with 3:24 left in the first period.
Both teams traded field goals early in the second period, and the Wolfpack would take the lead right before halftime on another field goal from John Deraney, this time a 27-yarder as time expired at the end the half. Wolfpack quarterback Jay Davis showed plenty of poise on the drive, as he connected with a variety of wide receivers and led the Wolfpack into scoring range with no timeouts remaining in the half. Deraney's kick put NC State ahead 13-10 at halftime, and the crowd at Carter-Finley Stadium could smell an upset.
However, Hokie quarterback Marcus Vick had something to say about that, as he made several huge plays in the third quarter to swing the momentum into Virginia Tech's favor. On the Hokies' first drive of the second half, Vick had two huge running plays, including a super 24-yard scamper on third down that kept the drive alive. But, NC State's defense stiffened near the goalline and forced the Hokies to settle for another Brandon Pace field goal, a 28-yarder that tied the score at 13-13 entering the fourth quarter.
In the final period more mental mistakes damaged NC State's chance to win the contest. After a 19-yard punt return from sophomore Eddie Royal gave Virginia Tech the ball at NC State's 20-yard line, Vick again came up huge on third down, finding David Clowney open on a corner route for the 19-yard touchdown pass. Vick's pass to Clowney gave the Hokies a 20-13 lead and put them in a position to play conservative and rely on their defense.
After the Hokie score, NC State's offense got the ball back and proceeded to move the football. However, the drive would stall at the 36-yard line, leaving NC State with a fourth-and-one and a punting situation. After a false start penalty on cornerback Marcus Hudson, the Wolfpack used some special teams trickery as safety DaJuan Morgan broke free on a well-executed fake punt for 44 yards and a NC State first down at the Virginia Tech 25-yard line.
"We got the look we were wanting and everything panned out," Morgan said of the fake punt call. "It's a good thing we got the penalty because they put the block team on, and we made it happen."
"I was possessed to do it," Amato said. "I couldn't wait. It was killing me to do it. We actually took that five-yard penalty... that was taken intentionally."
The Wolfpack would settle for yet another Deraney field goal, cutting Virginia Tech's lead to just four points, 20-16 with 8:09 left in the game.
Virginia Tech started to get its running game going on the final drive and ran valuable time off the clock. It appeared the Hokies would have to settle for another field goal attempt with a little over two minutes remaining, but after Pace looked to have missed the kick wide right, Hudson was flagged for running into the kicker. The penalty gave Virginia Tech an automatic first down and allowed the Hokies to run more time off the clock.
"We just had a ton of penalties this game," Wolfpack defensive end Mario Williams said. "Once again it just hurt us."
"We've changed approaches. Can you help me," Amato asked the media about how to solve the penalty problems. "Give me a suggestion. Email me...I don't have email. Give me a suggestion. I don't know if A.J. Davis has had a penalty called on him in three years. I really don't... What do you tell a kid that has never been penalized before? I'm open. I don't have all the answers. My eraser wears out before my pencil does just like yours."
Needing a touchdown to win the game, NC State had just 39 seconds left following the Hokie punt but Davis and the Wolfpack didn't give up easily. The senior quarterback continued to make plays under pressure, including a 32-yard completion to Tramain Hall on third down that put the ball near midfield. After another completion by Davis, the Wolfpack quarterback took one shot at the endzone, but the pass was intercepted by Aaron Rouse. Rouse, a converted linebacker playing rover, recorded his second pick of the night and sealing the victory for the Hokies, 20-16.
Despite the loss, Davis was solid for the Wolfpack. Facing one of the premier defenses in the country, he completed 27-of-42 passes for 311 yards and two interceptions.
"It's much improvement compared to last year," Davis said. "We were able to move the ball effectively, and I thought at times last year we were kind of overmatched. I didn't feel that tonight."
Leading the Wolfpack rushing attack was Blackman, who finished with 58 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries. Junior Regggie Davis added 35 yards while true freshman Toney Baker rushed for five yards on three attempts.
Davis completed passes to eight receivers, and senior Tramain Hall led the way, registering eight catches for 97 yards, both game-highs. Senior tight end T.J. Williams tallied 62 yards on 6 catches and Blackman added another 40 yards receiving.
The Wolfpack finished the night with 438 yards of total offense, and Virgina Tech recorded just 232 yards of total offense against a stingy NC State defense.
Vick completed 10-of-21 passes for 108 yards and added 31 yards rushing on 13 carries. Imoh netted 56 yards rushing on 18 carries to lead the Hokies.
Defensively, NC State was led by junior linebacker Stephen Tulloch. The Miami, Florida native recorded 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss while middle linebacker Oliver Hoyte added 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack.
NC State (0-1) has a bye week before facing Eastern Kentucky on September 17th. Virginia Tech (1-0) plays at Duke next weekend.