"Andre missed the record for most yards rushing, by Ted Brown against Penn State if I'm not mistaken, by three yards," NC State head coach Chuck Amato said. "I was here to see that one. I told him he's got three years to get it. He'll have his opportunities."
"It didn't feel like [248 yards rushing]," Brown said afterwards. "I thought I had just barely broke a hundred to be honest with you.
"I just went in there and held on to the ball. I got a couple of more carries because I held on to the ball."
Before Brown's heroics, NC State would fall behind early due to a familiar problem... turnovers. Tramain Hall fumbled a Southern Miss punt on NC State's first possession, the first of four Wolfpack turnovers in the opening quarter.
"Nothing comes easy," Amato said. "Right off the bat, we drop a fair catch... our most dependable player. That set the field position for the entire first quarter."
Despite the miscues, NC State's defense continued its stellar play and kept the Wolfpack in the game, with super defensive end Mario Williams leading the way. Southern Miss struggled to develop any consistency on offense, as Williams and company were in the backfield all day long. That didn't prevent the Eagles from putting points up on the scoreboard late in the first quarter.
On third-and-eight from NC State's own five-yard line, Wolfpack running back Toney Baker caught a screen pass and ran for 15 yards but fumbled on the play and Southern Miss's Ed Willingham recovered at the 22-yard line. The Eagles drove to the NC State one-yard line, and tailback Larry Thomas plunged into the endzone for the opening score, giving Southern Miss a 7-0 lead with 52 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Baker's fumble ironically was the turning point of the game for NC State's offense, as it opened the door for Andre Brown to showcase his talents at tailback.
The 6-foot-0, 232-pound freshman from Greenville, North Carolina entered on the Wolfpack's next possession and bounced a counter to the outside for 41 yards into Southern Miss territory. Two more carries from Brown and the drive stalled at the Southern Miss 20-yard line, where Wolfpack kicker John Deraney missed just his second kick of the season, a 38-yard attempt, wide left.
Brown ripped off several more big runs in the second quarter, but the Wolfpack couldn't sustain any drives and trailed 7-0 at the half. Brown had 96 yards on ten carries in the period, and the NC State coaching staff started to realize they could run the ball against the Southern Miss defense.
Quarterback Marcus Stone was struggling in his first career start, but with Brown running through and around Eagle defenders it would open the door for a productive second half from Stone.
"We talked to Marcus at halftime," Amato said. "He got some zip back in his throwing. He looked awfully good standing in there and throwing the ball. We tried to make it hard because we kept dropping passes."
NC State failed to get any points on its opening drive of the second half, and appeared to force a punt by Southern Miss on their first possession. However, Manny Lawson was called for roughing the kicker on USM's punt, giving the Eagles the ball back, and they would convert the penalty into points. Later in the drive, Southern Miss quarterback Dustin Almond found Josh Barnes open in the corner of the endzone on a 16-yard scoring strike, and the Eagles increased the lead to 14-0 with 8:56 remaining in the third quarter.
NC State, a team reeling off back-to-back conference losses, could have folded but didn't quit.
"Everybody counted them off," Amato said. "But them... but the kids. Those young men, there was no quit in them. They took the best shot they could in the first half, and they took the best shot they could to start the second half. They fought their fanny off."
Stone was efficient on the ensuing drive, completing 4-of-6 passes for 67 yards including two great grabs by Brown and tight end Anthony Hill. Brown capped the drive with a spectacular eight-yard touchdown run, as he broke two tackles and spun off another defender into the endzone. Brown's run cut the Southern Miss lead to 14-7, and gave NC State's offense some much-needed confidence.
Southern Miss added a 24-yard field goal in the opening minute of the final period, increasing the lead to 17-7.
|Williams With The Sack|
The Eagles' 10-point lead didn't last long, as on NC State's next possession Brown broke into the USM secondary and sprinted past two defenders on a 61-yard touchdown scamper. The run, NC State's longest of the season, didn't give the Wolfpack's defense a long time to rest, but definitely served as motivation. The Wolfpack forced a three-and-out and Southern Miss had to kick to an NC State offense playing the way most expected when the season began.
NC State took over at its own 48-yard line, and proceeded to march down the field behind Brown and clutch passing from Stone. On third-and-goal from the three-yard line, Stone found senior wideout Brian Clark open for the touchdown, and NC State led for the first time in the game, 21-17.
Now NC State's defense had what it wanted. With Southern Miss needing a touchdown to win and just five minutes left to play, the Wolfpack knew the Eagles had to pass. That allowed Wolfpack defenders to pin their ears back and go after Almond. Lawson would get to the USM quarterback, as his pressure forced an intentional grounding by Almond and a play later Southern Miss had to punt.
NC State wasn't able to put the game away and had to punt after a three-and-out, but ironically it was a turnover that would seal the deal for the Wolfpack. Jasper Faulk muffed Deraney's punt and NC State's LeRue Rumph recovered at the Southern Miss 32-yard line.
Four Andre Brown carries later the game was over and NC State picked up a huge win. The Wolfpack tallied 425 yards of total offense and 297 yards rushing with an offensive line missing starter Kalani Heppe.
"Give that offensive line all the credit in the world," Amato said. "I don't think our quarterback was sacked, I could be wrong, they opened up some big holes, and Andre ran over some big people."
Brown was the star, but Marcus Stone managed the game well for the Wolfpack. The sophomore signal-caller completed 10-of-26 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, but he did throw two picks in the first quarter. However, he was much more efficient in the second half.
"He's a confident young man that took advantage of the situation," Amato said of Stone. "It didn't look like at halftime he was going to, but again I think the fact of where he had to start hurt him there. He came out and did a whale of a job."
Defensively, Stephen Tulloch finished with 12 tackles, and Mario Williams was outstanding. The junior defensive end registered 11 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks and seven quarterback hurries. Williams has recorded seven sacks in his last two games and is emerging as the force most envisioned he would be prior to the season.
"It was about this time last year when Mario got cranked up," Amato said. "I have challenged that defensive line like you can't imagine. It started last week in front of the whole time and they have stepped up.
"They did it without John McCargo, just like our offensive line did it without Kalani Heppe. They are playing because they are enjoying it and having some fun out there. Games are suppose to be fun."
NC State (3-4, 1-4) will travel to Tallahassee next weekend to face the Florida State Seminoles, but Chuck Amato wants to savor this victory before thinking about the tough task that lies ahead.
"Let's worry about this game," Amato said. "Let us savor this game. Tallahassee... where's that at? Let's savor this."