The Wolfpack, known for slow starts with Marcus Stone at quarterback, scored on its opening possession of the game, following a big special teams play. After being forced to punt, Maryland's Jo Jo Walker muffed the John Deraney kick, and Wolfpack senior Marcus Hudson made the first of several huge plays he would have, as he recovered at the Maryland 34-yard line, giving NC State a new set of downs. Despite the great field position, the Wolfpack had to settle for a 38-yard Deraney field goal that split the uprights, and with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter NC State led 3-0.
Defensively, the Wolfpack jumped all over Maryland, led by super defensive end Mario Williams. A 6-foot-7, 290-pound junior playing likely his last game in Carter-Finley Stadium, Williams was unblockable and sacked Terp quarterback Sam Hollenbach twice in the opening quarter. Hollenbach had –22 yards rushing in the period, while completing 4-of-6 passes for 31 yards.
The junior got going in the second quarter, and so did the Terp offense. Late in the period, Hollenbach led an 11-play drive that ended with a one-yard Lance Ball touchdown run, giving Maryland a 7-3 lead with 2:35 left in the half. Hollenbach converted three critical third-down conversions on the drive, including a 16-yard run on 3rd-and-13, and connected on 7-of-11 passes for 102 yards in the quarter.
NC State's quarterback wasn't nearly as efficient, as Stone again had problems passing to start the game. The Wolfpack junior completed just 1-of-5 passes prior to halftime, and NC State had just 39 yards of total offense with a single first down.
However, the Wolfpack has ironically had success in games where Stone's struggled in first halves. NC State was 3-0 when Stone starts a contest and completes a single pass before halftime, so even the most optimistic Wolfpack fan, while obviously frustrated, had to hope the trend would continue.
"At halftime, I told Marcus you're right on schedule," NC State head coach Chuck Amato joked. "You're right on schedule. You're 1-of-4. We're going to go out there and we're just going to rip them."
With NC State receiving the opening kickoff of the third quarter, "Second Half" Stone did just that. The junior completed an 20-yard strike to Tramain Hall on third down, and after two straight completions to T.J. Williams, he had the Wolfpack deep in Maryland territory at the Terp 26-yard line. However, the Terps would force a punt, and NC State's defense continued to play strong. On third down, Tank Tyler sacked Hollenbach at the six-yard line, resulting in a Maryland punt.
On the ensuing drive, NC State would finally capitalize and put points on the board. After a screen pass to Andre Brown for 15 yards to the Terp 11-yard line, a Maryland pass interference in the endzone placed the football at the two-yard line, and on fourth-down freshman tailback Toney Baker leaped into the endzone for the score, giving the Wolfpack a 10-7 advantage with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
NC State dominated the third quarter from a statistical standpoint, but only managed to put seven points on the scoreboard. The Wolfpack tallied 93 yards of offense with Stone completing 10-of-12 passes, and the defense held Maryland to a mere –6 yards of total offense. More importantly, the efficient offense allowed the Pack defense to rest for what would be a dynamic fourth quarter performance.
"That was bigtime," said Baker, who led the Wolfpack in rushing with 65 yards on 15 carries. "Momentum on our sideline was fantastic. You could look at their sideline and it was nothing like our sideline."
"I don't feel so much changed," said Stone. "The offense as a whole just started clicking. We started to feel comfortable and just went out there and had fun."
NC State had the ball and was driving again early in the fourth quarter, but a Stone pass intended for Darrell Blackman was intercepted by Maryland's Josh Wilson, and the Terps had possession at their own 11-yard line. After a 16-yard completion to Vernon Davis, Hollenbach's next pass was intercepted by Wolfpack senior Marcus Hudson, who returned the pick 28 yards for the touchdown, giving NC State a 17-7 lead with 9:50 left in the contest. Hudson, who had three costly penalties in the first half, came up with a huge play when the Wolfpack needed it the most.
"It was almost like a basketball move," Hudson said of the interception. "I boxed him out. I caught it... I cupped it. I felt him go around my waist and come off. By the time I turned around, it was just the endzone."
Following the Hudson score, the Wolfpack defense, again came up big and it was No. 9 who made the big play. Mario Williams exploded into the backfield and sacked Hollenbach, his fourth sack of the contest, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Demario Pressley. The four sacks set a school record and gave Williams 13 on the season, another NC State record. Williams, who nearly missed the game after barely practicing all week with an undisclosed injury, felt his mental preparation was the key to his performance.
"This is the most I've ever been prepared against an opponent," Williams said. "I knew just about everything they were doing... especially if it was a pass. I told them what was going on, and we just had to get off the ball."
"He came very close to not playing at all," Amato said of Williams. "We got him to do some walk through on Wednesday... did a little more on Thursday. I was more concerned about stamina.
"There are three games that I think he and the defensive line just totally took over. I don't say that boasting... obviously this was one of them."
The Wolfpack converted the fumble into a 29-yard field goal from John Deraney, giving NC State a commanding 20-7 lead with 6:44 remaining.
Despite the NC State advantage, Maryland wouldn't fold, as they have rarely done with Ralph Friedgen as head coach. On their next possession, Maryland converted on 4th-and-15, as Hollenbach hit Jo Jo Walker across the middle for 32 yards, keeping the Terps in the contest. A few plays later, Hollenbach found Vernon Davis open in the corner of the endzone for the touchdown pass, cutting NC State's lead to 20-14, with 4:16 remaining.
The Wolfpack had been in this position before against the Terps. Two years ago, NC State needed to just gain a first down, but couldn't do it as former Pack running back T.A. McLendon fumbled. This time, the Wolfpack converted on a Stone quarterback sneak, giving the Wolfpack another set of downs. While the play only resulted in a yard gain, it allowed NC State to run two more minutes off the clock, before having to punt.
With 48 seconds remaining, Hollenbach dropped back and his pass intended for Jo Jo Walker was intercepted by Hudson, securing the critical victory for the Wolfpack.
"His little boy said, 'My daddy won by intercepting two passes.' Amen," Amato said of Hudson. "He's a great player. He's a great player, and he along with three others were elected permanent captains on Wednesday by their teammates.
"It's a sixty minute ballgame. Sixty minutes. When I looked up there and they had the ball with 49 seconds on the clock... I wanted to choke. Marcus made a great play."
The win made NC State (6-5, 3-5) bowl eligible, as the Wolfpack won four out of the final five games of the season to reach the postseason, a huge accomplishment.
Bowl officials from the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the MPC Computers Bowl were on hand for the contest, but NC State's plans remain unknown.
"Yea, I'd like to go to Rome," Amato said when asked if he had a bowl preference. "I'd love to go to Rome, and there's a new bowl there. I don't know the name of it, I think it's the pasta bowl.
"You know what? I'm just glad that we're bowl eligible, and I want to savor that right now. My wife asked that same question. She asked, 'where we going?' And I said, 'We're going home."
Regardless, the Wolfpack head coach and his players are simply happy to be in a situation to attend any bowl, considering the team was 2-4 just five weeks ago.
"They are the ones that played," said Amato. "That football team was written off five weeks ago by a lot of people, but not people from the Wolfpack Nation.
"To have done what they've done the last five weeks is incredible, knowing how they felt five weeks ago. It's very rewarding. I told them, you can have the last laugh on this.
"Four out of the last five games they won. Were any of them easy? No, and that even makes it more... because everyone of them they had an opportunity to quit. They had an opportunity to throw it in the tank and they wouldn't do it. All the credit goes to them. It's that simple."
"We're fighters... we're winners," said Hudson. "Within our heart we know we can compete with the best. We came back from a 2-4 start and we just fought. We just fought all year long."