NC State came out and played a complete first half for the possibly the first time this season, as the Wolfpack clicked on both sides of the ball in the opening half.
The defense, led by Mario Williams, Stephen Tulloch, and Manny Lawson, limited South Florida's offense to just 66 yards of total offense. Bull tailback Andre Hall, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in the regular season, tallied just 43 yards on 12 first half carries, while quarterback Pat Julmiste connected on 3-of-8 passes for 30 yards.
The Wolfpack's offense had much more success against a vastly underrated South Florida defense.
On NC State's opening drive of the second quarter, freshman tailback Toney Baker rushed for 39 yards on five carries, leading NC State deep into South Florida territory. On third-and-goal, quarterback Marcus Stone threw a fade pass in the corner of the endzone that wide receiver Brian Clark pulled in with a Bull defender on his back for the touchdown. The nine-play, 67-yard drive gave the Wolfpack a 7-0 lead with 8:13 remaining in the period.
NC State's next drive also resulted in points, and again it was a pass from Stone to Clark that was the big play. The sophomore quarterback hit Clark streaking down the sideline for a 41-yard pass play. Clark, a 6-foot-3 wideout from Tampa, Florida, made a great adjustment on the ball, coming back to the pass and outleaping Bull cornerback Mike Jenkins.
With 17 seconds left in the half, freshman tailback Andre Brown scored on a one-yard run behind huge blocks from Anthony Hill and Derek Morris. Brown's run capped a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive, and the Wolfpack led 14-0 at halftime.
NC State's efficient offense tallied 167 yards of total offense in the first half. Stone, who in his five previous games had completed just one pass in the opening half of four of those contests, completed 5-of-11 passes for 68 yards including the nine-yard scoring strike to Clark. Clark had two catches for 50 yards and Baker rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries.
Both teams suffered turnovers to start the third quarter as newly inserted Bull quarterback Carlton Hill started the rash of miscues with a fumble that NC State linebacker Stephen Tulloch recovered. On the Wolfpack's ensuing possession, a huge hit by Terrence Royal forced a fumble from Stone, and Bull linebacker Jason Allen recovered at the NC State 40-yard line. But, the turnovers didn't stop there, as on the very next play Hill would fumble again, this time after being hit by Demario Pressley. NC State defensive tackle Tank Tyler recovered on the Wolfpack 43-yard line, and the defense again came up with a big play.
However, NC State couldn't convert on the turnovers as the Wolfpack missed on two scoring opportunities that could have increased the lead. Following Pressley's fumble recovery, NC State drove the ball down to the South Florida one-yard line, but Stone was stopped on back-to-back plays for no gain and the Bulls took over possession due to the turnover on downs. On the ensuing series, kicker John Deraney missed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide left, and with 14:23 remaining the Pack's lead was still 14-0.
South Florida could never really challenge because of NC State's superb defensive effort. The Bulls mounted a drive midway through the fourth quarter, but Pack safety Garland Heath's interception in the endzone ended the drive. Heath's pick gave him five on the season, the highest by a Wolfpack defender since 1999 when cornerback Lloyd Harrison also tallied five interceptions.
Leading the Wolfpack's defensive attack was Tulloch. The 5-foot-10 junior tallied a game-high 15 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and a fumble recovery. Tulloch won the 2005 Jerry Richardson Award as game MVP.
"He's a great player," Wolfpack head coach Chuck Amato said of Tulloch. "He's so instinctive. He sees so much, and he's just a football player. I'm glad none of the other people recruited him because he wasn't a couple of inches taller. That's one of the best linebackers that you can be around right there. He's a big-timer."
Star defensive end Mario Williams finished with seven tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks while senior corner Marcus Hudson recorded nine tackles, a pass deflection, and a blocked punt.
The Wolfpack's offense was efficient when it needed to be, as Baker rushed for 93 yards on 23 carries and Brown added another 51 yards on 12 carries. Stone completed 9-of-19 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown while Clark was the leading receiver with 66 yards on three receptions.
South Florida's offensive attack sputtered much of the day, particularly through the air. Pat Julmiste and Carlton Hill combined to complete just 10-of-30 passes for 159 yards and one interception. Tailback Andre Hall managed to have a strong game on the ground, as he tallied 118 yards on 19 carries, but the Bulls could never capitalize on any of his long runs.
The Wolfpack (7-5) closed the season winning five of their final six games after starting the season 2-4. After hearing the criticism early in the season, NC State head coach Chuck Amato said the win was gratifying.
"My skin is very, very thick," Amato said. "I've been hit in the mouth and hit in the nose many times and it's broken and it's crooked. I was more concerned about my players than me. It goes with the territory. I'm the same guy that three years ago, ooh, ah, ooh ah.
"You don't get too high when that happens and you don't get too low when that other stuff happens.
"That doesn't bother me because the true Wolfpack fans are always there. Look at that stadium out there today. Fans aren't... they may be fans of other schools because a lot of people are jealous about what's going on at this university right now."
Bowl Game Notables
The Wolfpack last recorded a shutout on September 4, 2004 against 1-AA Richmond, 42-0. The last shutout over a 1-A came on 10/27/2001 as the Wolfpack defeated Virginia 24-0 in Raleigh.