The Wolfpack entered the game against Florida State needing to win three of their final four games of the season to become eligible for a bowl bid. Most felt a win in Tallahassee would be the toughest test remaining on NC State's schedule, but they forgot to tell the Wolfpack players that.
Freshman Andre Brown, fresh off a 248-yard, two-touchdown breakout performance against Southern Mississippi, made his first career start and set the tone in the game's opening minute. On his first carry, Brown broke a tackle in the backfield, stiff-armed cornerback Tony Carter, and scampered 65 yards for the touchdown, giving the Wolfpack a 7-0 lead while silencing the raucous Seminole crowd.
"It was on from there," Brown said. "We had confidence coming in and we knew that we could play with this guys but that really jumpstarted things."
The 6-foot, 230-pound tailback from Greenville, North Carolina ran hard all day, breaking tackles and helping NC State keep the defense rested. Brown rushed for 120 yards in the first half, allowing NC State to hang in the game and keep FSU's high-octane offense on the sidelines.
NC State kept control of the game because of the Wolfpack's stifling defense. Playing inspired football the past three weeks, the Pack defensive unit, which entered the game ranked No. 22 nationallly in total defense, shifted formations and schemes to try and confuse Florida State's young quarterbacks.
After forcing punts on Florida State's first three possessions, the defense faced tough field position with the Noles starting on the Wolfpack 29-yard line. Florida State had three first-and-goal opportunities inside the Wolfpack fifteen-yard line; however, NC State held the Noles to a 25-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3.
Florida State took the lead on its next possession, after Drew Weatherford connected with Chris Davis on a 33-yard scoring strike, giving the Seminoles a 10-7 lead with 7:38 remaining in the first half.
It appeared the Noles, who entered the game 13.5 point favorites over NC State, had seized momentum in the game, but once again the Wolfpack got a big play from their talented tailback. On the ensuing possession, Brown ran off right tackle for a 49-yard run as Tony Carter forced him out-of-bounds at the FSU 31-yard line. After a 15-yard Darrell Blackman run to the FSU 16, two penalties pushed the Wolfpack back to the 31-yard line where John Deraney connected on a 48-yard field goal, and at halftime the score was tied 10-10.
As in his first start against Southern Mississippi, Wolfpack quarterback Marcus Stone struggled in the first half, completing just 1-of-7 passes for eight yards. However, as in his first start against Southern Mississippi, Stone looked like a completely different quarterback in the final two periods.
On the Wolfpack's opening possession, Stone completed back-to-back passes to T.J. Williams and Tramain Hall for 11 and 36 yards respectively. Add in a 20-yard run from Andre Brown, and NC State was knocking on the door at FSU's 13-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Stone appeared to have connected with Brian Clark on a touchdown pass but Clark dropped the ball. NC State had to settle for a 22-yard field goal, but led 13-10 midway through the third quarter.
Florida State mounted a drive late in the third quarter, but Wolfpack junior cornerback A.J. Davis picked off a pass intended for 6-foot-6 wide receiver Greg Carr and returned it 43 yards to the FSU 29-yard line. On the play, Davis played great technique on the taller Carr, using the sideline to his advantage and was in position to make a huge play for NC State.
|Andre Brown Has Another Big Game|
The Wolfpack would cash in on the turnover, and it was Stone who again came up big. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore completed 3-of-3 passes on the drive, including the four-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Hill on second-and-goal. Hill, who had lined up at tight end on the play, ran a crossing route across the the back of the endzone and was wide open in the corner where Stone found him for the score. Hill's touchdown catch gave NC State a commanding 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter and the Wolfpack appeared poised to pull off the upset.
"I was happy to make that play for him," Hill said. "With as many players as we have from Florida, this is like another rivalry game for us."
But, the special teams of Florida State allowed the Seminoles to get back in the game. With their offense stuck in neutral, FSU needed a big play, and midway through the fourth quarter they got it. With NC State punting from its own 42-yard line, FSU's Anthony Houllis blocked Deraney's punt and Seminole linebacker Sam McGrew picked recovered and returned it to the Wolfpack 31-yard line.
On its previous possession, Florida State had replaced Weatherford with fellow freshman Xavier Lee at quarterback, and surprisingly the Noles stuck with Lee on the drive. He could never get going against NC State's defense, and after three straight incompletions Florida State settled for a 48-yard field goal, cutting the Wolfpack lead to a touchdown at 20-13.
FSU got another blocked punt just minutes later, as this time linebacker Marcello Church sprinted through and blocked Deraney's kick. Lawrence Timmons recovered the block and returned it 14 yards to NC State's five-yard line. With 2:50 remaining in the game, Weatherford returned at quarterback and on his first play he fell down in the backfield for a seven-yard loss. On the very next play, Davis would intercept Weatherford again, picking off a pass intended for Rod Owens.
"I could just see it in his eyes," Davis said. "He looked to the corner once and I knew that's where he was headed. It was just a matter of making the play."
Instead of punting on their next fourth down, NC State chose to take a safety, as Deraney ran out the back of the endzone and the Wolfpack led 20-15 with 53 seconds remaining. The play allowed NC State to kick the ball off and gain favorable field position and still forced Florida State to score a touchdown to win the game.
FSU took over at its own 45-yard line, and after Chris Davis dropped a pass, NC State's Manny Lawson sacked Weatherford for a one-yard loss. Florida State had no timeouts left, and with the clock running Weatherford, who was pressured on the play, was picked off again, this time by rover Garland Heath. The play sealed a huge victory for NC State, and kept the Wolfpack's bowl hopes alive.
"This is a great win for everybody in the Wolfpack Nation," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. "I can't say enough about the way these young men fought together, stayed together and believed. I'm thrilled."
NC State finished the game with 281 yards of total offense while limiting Florida State to just 227 total yards.
Stone completed 9-of-17 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, but didn't have a turnover and managed the game well throughout.
Brown was the offensive star for NC State, rushing for 179 yards on 26 carries, including the 65-yard touchdown run.
Defensively, NC State got a big game from Davis and Heath. Davis finished with six tackles and two interceptions while Heath added nine tackles and the game-winning interception.
NC State's (4-4, 2-4) next contest will be at Boston College. The Golden Eagles have lost two straight ACC conference games and will be looking to avoid a three-game losing streak.
The Wolfpack must win two games against Boston College, Middle Tennessee State, or Maryland to become bowl eligible. A win next weekend would go a long way to securing the bid.
Two weeks ago most felt NC State would be home for the holidays for a second straight season, but after back-to-back wins the Wolfpack could be making a late-season charge.