State fans, you have a quarterback. Playing with poise and passing with precision, Daniel Evans continued NC State's remarkable resurgence, tossing three touchdown passes to help the Wolfpack upset No. 17 Florida State 24-20. For NC State, it was the fourth victory over FSU in their last six meetings, and it leaves the Wolfpack all along at the top of the ACC's Atlantic Division, sporting a 2-0 mark. Florida State, fell to a shocking 1-2 in the division.
The game nearly ended as dramatically as the Wolfpack's last win, a thrilling come-from-behind victory against Boston College. After FSU took possession on its own 5-yard line with 5:24 to go and down by four, the Seminoles cracked what had been a lockdown Wolfpack defense and easily marched up the field to the NCSU 36-yard line, not encountering one third down in the drive. However, with 3:06 remaining, on 1st-and-ten Alan-Michael Cash tackled Antone Smith for a three-yard loss, setting up 2nd and long.
On the following play, FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford tried to force a laser between two Wolfpack defenders to tight end Brandon Warren, who had already tallied the 48 yards receiving and a touchdown reception. But the ball was tipped, landing safely into the hands of Wolfpack safety DaJuan Morgan on State's 21-yard line. With 2:35 remaining and no timeouts, FSU was powerless to prevent the Wolfpack from running out the clock, and NC State went to the popular victory formation to seal the win.
It was not an easy one for the Wolfpack. In the first half, the stout FSU defense stymied NC State's potent running attack, forcing five punts. However, NC State's defense flexed it's own muscle, playing with intensity and force throughout the game.
On the night the Wolfpack forced the Seminoles into six three-and-outs, and linemen Tank Tyler, Martel Brown, Willie Young, Littleton Wright, and Ray Brooks kept steady pressure on FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford, holding him to 16 completions in 29 attempts. However, a few of those completions were for huge gains, and at one point it appeared FSU's big-play ability had put the game away.
Early in the second half NC State trailed 13-10 and was facing fourth-and-goal from FSU's one-yard line. Head coach Chuck Amato chose to go for it and failed, as Toney Baker's dive to the endzone came up short. Florida State executed a seemingly momentum-crushing 99-yard touchdown drive, capped by Warren's 12-yard endzone reception. Down 20-10 and appearing in danger of letting the game get away, Evans and NC State answered.
The sophomore quarterback, in his second career start, led the Wolfpack right up the field against the tough Seminole defense. Keyed by a Jamelle Eugene 37-yard catch-and-run, NC State drove 65 yards, striking right back with a 10-yard fade to redshirt freshman Geron James in the corner of the endzone. The play pulled the Pack within three, 20-17. James had a career night, hauling in four receptions for 91 yards.
The 6'4 former Wilmington Ashley star played sparingly in the Wolfpack's first four games, but repeatedly jumped over 5'8 corner Michael Ray Garvin for long gains on the night, and Evans was not afraid to throw it to him despite Garvin's tight coverage.
"We felt all along he'd be good," Amato said of James. "After that first catch, we said 'Okay, let's try him again.'"
James had not caught a reception all season, but will likely be catching many more this year as he has the potential to be a devasting weapon for the Wolfpack.
Before NC State would take the lead for good, its defense would force FSU into another three-and-out. When the Pack got the ball back, Andre Brown and Toney Baker continued their powerful second-half running, rattling off 40 rushing yards before Evans again went to the endzone, finding John Dunlap in the corner for a 12-yard touchdown catch over FSU corner Jamie Robinson.
After being held to 43 rushing yards in the first half, Brown and Baker broke out for 107 yards in the second half. On the night Brown and Baker totaled 156 yards rushing on 30 attempts. Brown led all rushers with 113 yards, including a long 26-yard romp. FSU, on the other hand, was help to just 79 yards rushing.
FSU coach Bobby Bowden came away more impressed with the Wolfpack's young receiving corps.
"They made catch after catch," said Bowden. "I've never seen that many great catches in one game."
Up next for NC State (3-2, 2-0) is a tough home matchup with undefeated rival Wake Forest. The Deacons host Clemson this week. If Wake Forest upsets the Tigers, next week's game will be for sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.