Thriller In Atlanta

ATLANTA, GA -- Finally the ball bounced NC State's way and it was into the hands of Garland Heath as the junior's interception in the endzone sealed the Wolfpack's 17-14 victory over Georgia Tech.

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    NC State's defense came up big when it needed to most. The Wolfpack had played an astonishing 90 plays on defense as Georgia Tech held the ball for more than 34 minutes in the game, but tired and worn down they were able to make the big play.

    Georgia Tech started the final drive with 2:06 left on their own 24-yard line after a 39-yard punt by John Deraney. Led by quarterback Reggie Ball, who was outstanding in the second half, the Yellow Jackets marched down the field on slants, quarterback draws, and a key halfback screen. Ball connected with super sophomore Calvin Johnson on fourth down early in the drive to keep the chains moving, and the quarterback's 15-yard scamper to the Wolfpack two-yard line stopped the clock with 32 seconds left and a Yellow Jacket first down.

    Georgia Tech called a timeout after the run to discuss a play, but it also allowed NC State, which had used their last timeout earlier in the drive, to gameplan against the Yellow Jackets and catch a breather.

    "We took our last one because our kids were dead," NC State head coach Chuck Amato said. "I wanted to hold one in case we wanted to ice the kicker. But we wanted to get our kids some air so they could go harder than they did the play before. They were tired.

    "When they got down there, they probably had to do that (take a timeout) to get things in order. So what are we going to do. They're going to take three shots in the end zone, and who's it going to be? So we practiced that defense, and we got the tip, and this time we made the miraculous catch in the end zone."

    Georgia Tech's plan seemed simple. Put the ball in the hands of the players who made plays all second half: Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson. Ball lofted a playaction pass in the endzone that hit Johnson in the hands, but at the same time Wolfpack cornerback Marcus Hudson drilled Johsnon who tipped the ball in the air. Playing disciplined football, junior safety Garland Heath was converging from the backside, caught the tipped pass, and got both feet down before going out the back of the endzone.

    "Right now I'm just trying to redeem myself from the first game," Heath said. "I think in the third quarter of the Virginia Tech game I dropped an interception. I'm just trying to make plays."

    "Well, we thought that we had a good play where we could fake the run up the middle and draw people up and give Calvin a chance to win one on one," Tech head coach Chan Gailey said. "He's obviously one of the best players on the field and you are going to give him a chance to win the ballgame. And, if it's incomplete, which it is a majority of the time, if it's not a touchdown, you've got two more downs because you've got time enough to do that if you throw it. If you run it and you don't make it, then you are scrambling to get on the ball to just get one more play off and you've got to go to the huddle. You don't have a lot of two-minute goal line situations set up."

    Heath's interception sealed the win for the Wolfpack, as quarterback Jay Davis downed the ball on first down to run out the remaining time on the clock.

    It was Davis and the Wolfpack offense who first got on the board with some trickery from offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, but the Wolfpack had to dodge an early bullet from the Yellow Jackets.

    On NC State's opening possession, a Davis pass was ruled an interception by Tech linebacker Philip Wheeler at the Wolfpack 38-yard line.

    Tech would drive to the NC State 10-yard line but sophomore kicker Travis Bell missed a 27-yard field goal wide right. NC State capitalized on the miss, as just four plays later Davis connected with Brian Clark on a 40-yard touchdown passs to put the Wolfpack ahead 7-0.

    On the play, Davis tossed a sweep to freshman tailback Toney Baker and Baker lateraled back to Davis who found Clark behind the Tech defense for the touchdown.

    The Wolfpack added a 36-yard John Deraney field goal in the second quarter to take a 10-0 lead into halftime.

    Defensively the Wolfpack was playing outstanding, as sophomore free safety Miguel Scott's interception set up the Deraney field goal. However, the Wolfpack would suffer a loss on the play as Scott, who was solid against the run and pass in the first half, injured his ankle and would not return to the game.

    Still NC State had to feel good about the game as they led 10-0 at the half with Georgia Tech's offense struggling against the Wolfpack's fast, attacking defensive unit.

    Ball had completed just 6-of-25 passes at the half, but after adjustments by the Tech coaching staff he looked like a new quarterback in the second half.

    On Tech's first possession, starting at their own 3-yard line, Ball and the Yellow Jackets moved the ball at will down the field and Johnson would come up big, grabbing a highlight-reel, 27-yard touchdown pass over two defenders, cutting the Wolfpack's lead to 10-7.

    Tech would score again early in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a second Jay Davis interception. Tailback P.J. Daniels rushed for a 12-yard touchdown on the second play of the final period, giving the Yellow Jackets a 14-10 lead and all the momentum.

    Following a 3-and-out drive by NC State, Tech had a chance to put points on the board, but failed to do so. Bell missed another field goal, a 24-yarder wide right and his fifth straight missed kick on the season.

    Just like they did in the first half, the Wolfpack would make Georgia Tech pay for their miscues, as Davis connected with Clark again. From the 20-yard line, Davis threw a perfect slant pass to Clark who sprinted past three defenders for the 80-yard touchdown and NC State's longest play from scrimmage of the season. Clark's score, his second of the game, put NC State ahead for good at 17-14.

    "We saw it on film all week," Davis said. "We tried to throw it against them earlier in the game, but they were jumping in and out of cover two and man coverage."

    "They hit a crease," Gailey said. "Threw a quick slant and ran through the whole team. I'll have to watch it on film to see exactly what happened, but the quarterback just hit a crease. It was one of those things where you think you've got people converging to the ball to make it an 8-10 yard pass, but it ended up splitting a crease."

    Leading the way offensively for the Wolfpack was Clark. After missing two games with an ankle injury, he caught four passes for 148 yards. T.J. Williams added four catches for 38 yards.

    Jay Davis had another solid game passing as he connected on 18-of-25 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Davis has now passed for more than 200 yards in 11 out of his last 12 games.

    Freshman Toney Baker again carried the load at tailback for NC State. Stellar at times, Baker often had to break tackles in the backfield and rushed for a hard-earned 68 yards on 22 carries.

    Defensively, weakside linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who entered averaging 13.3 tackles per game, finished with 13 to pace the Wolfpack. Middle linebacker Oliver Hoyte had 11 tackles while LeRue Rumph and Heath added nine.

    Ball led Georgia Tech, completing 21-of-53 passes for 279 yards and rushing for another 88 yards. Johnson, just a true sophomore and one of the most electrifying players in college football, tallied ten catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, but this night he will be remembered for the catch he didn't make.

    NC State (2-2, 1-2) is now back in the Atlantic divisional race with a much-needed victory. The Wolfpack returns to Raleigh for another Thursday night contest as Clemson (2-3, 1-2) will be coming to town next week.

    PARTING SHOTS

  • NC State scored all 17 points following a Georgia Tech turnover and two missed field goals.

  • The Wolfpack defense was on the field for 91 plays while the Wolfpack offense played just 56 snaps. Georgia Tech held the ball for 34:12 of the game. The Yellow Jackets were on offense for more than nine minutes in the first, third and fourth quarters.

  • Wolfpack kicker John Deraney is still perfect on field goals, as he has drilled all seven kicks this season. Deraney did just as well punting against the Yellow Jackets, averaging 40.3 yards per punt on seven punts while pinning five inside the 20-yard line.

  • NC State won the game despite not recording a single sack.

  • The Wolfpack found ways to get Bobby Washington the ball without him playing tailback. The sophomore had three catches for 14 yards at slotback and was also returning kicks with freshman tailback Andre Brown.

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