Pack Roars Past Pirates, 34-20

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- In a game they never trailed, NC State made the crucial plays at the beginning and end to defeat in-state rival East Carolina 34-20.

Things couldn't have started better for NC State. After controlling East Carolina's offense on the first two drives, the Wolfpack came back with perhaps its best drive of the season. Redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Evans led an eight-play, 71-yard drive that ended with Evans hitting Darrell Davis in the endzone on a 37-yard strike to put the Wolfpack out front 7-0. Davis, who at nearly 6-foot-6 and is the Wolfpack's biggest receiver, ran past the cornerback on the play to catch the perfect pass from Evans.

On East Carolina's next play from scrimmage, tailback Chris Johnson fumbled a handoff that was recovered by the Wolfpack's Martrel Brown at East Carolina' 21-yard line. Evans and the Pack's offense didn't waste anytime to convert as he found John Dunlap open on a skinny post down the middle of the field for the touchdown. Following Steven Hauschka's extra point, the Wolfpack led 14-0 and the raucous crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen was silent.

The Wolfpack dominated the opening quarter. NC State tallied 107 yards with 101 coming through the air while the Pirates totaled just 36 yards of offense. Evans completed 10-of-14 passes and the two scores. The 14-point lead was the Wolfpack's largest following the first quarter in 30 games, dating back to the 2005 contest against Eastern Kentucky.

Things remained the same to open the second quarter. After forcing an East Carolina punt, senior corner Jimmie Sutton flew off the edge and blocked the kick. J.C. Neal scooped up the kick and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, pushing the Wolfpack's lead to 21-0.

East Carolina, who entered the game No. 8 in the country in turnover margin, picked up one of its own on NC State's next offensive possession. Evans hit Darrell Davis across the middle of the field who bobbled the ball and after being hit, ECU's Jeremy Chambliss intercepted the ball and returned it to the 23-yard line. Seven plays later, the Pirates reached the endzone on a 1-yard plunge by Johnson on fourth down, cutting NC State's lead to 21-7.

Late in the second quarter the Wolfpack threatened again, venturing into range for a 42-yard field goal attempt by Hauschka. Instead the Wolfpack ran a fake with holder Bradley Pierson handing off to Hauschka who was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

"We made the decision to fake it," said head coach Tom O'Brien. "They made a good play. At that point, they hadn't done anything against our defense... it backfired on us."

East Carolina capitalized on the play, driving down the field to score on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Kass to Jamar Bryant. The seven-play, 72-yard drive took just 49 seconds, pulling the Pirates even closer at 21-14.

On the ensuing kickoff, Donald Bowens returned the kickoff to the 41 but fumbled on the play. Bowens, making his first start at kick returner, was fighting for extra yardage and a Pirate defender forced the fumble. ECU recovered, and after an 11-yard Johnson run, kicker Ben Hartman drilled a 47-yard field goal on the half's final play cutting NC State's lead to 21-17.

East Carolina's late success gave their offense confidence, as the Pirates came out moving the ball on the Pack's defense to start the third quarter. Midway through the third, ECU mounted a drive behind Kass and Bryant, with the quarterback connecting with the receiver three times on the drive for first downs. NC State's defense stiffened in the redzone and forced the Pirates to kick a 29-yard field goal, which Hartman converted. Now the Pirates were down just one at 21-20 and had all the momentum with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

NC State answered with a gritty drive, and this time they settled for the 41-yard Steven Hauschka field goal. Evans made two crucial passes on the play completing both to Bowens for 39 yards on the 10-play, 58-yard drive.

On East Carolina's next drive, the Wolfpack, who had already dropped four potential interceptions earlier in the game, came up with perhaps the biggest play of the game when Demario Pressley picked off a pass that was tipped back towards the line of scrimmage. The turnover gave the Wolfpack great field position at the 32-yard line.

Evans would come up big again for the Wolfpack. He connected with Eugene on a beautiful out-and-up pass for the touchdown. The pass, Evans' third of the game, gave NC State a 31-20 advantage and pushed his passing yardage total over the 300-yard mark for the first time in his career.

The Wolfpack's defense came back on the field needing to make a stop and did just that. Behind a fierce pass rush, State sacked Kass three times on the drive forcing a fourth-and-long that the Pirates didn't convert. NC State took over on downs and stayed aggressive. On second-and-six, Evans hit Donald Bowens for another 32 yards, and putting the Pack back deep in Pirate territory. Hauschka would convert again, this time from 21 yards out, giving State a 34-20 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

As it did on previous drives, the Wolfpack's defense stood strong, breaking up a play in the endzone that sealed the 34-20 win over the in-state rival.

Evans was the star of the game, completing 29-of-44 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He made huge plays all game and came up big when NC State needed him the most. The Wolfpack's defense limited the dangerous Johnson to just 63 yards on 19 carries, and totaled six sacks. O'Brien seemed thrilled with the way his team played.

"I think this win meant a lot to them," he said. "It meant a lot to the staff. I think we made some changes that worked out for us, and I am just really happy for these kids. They won the football game. The challenge was to come here and play four quarters, which they did. They played a solid football game... we are looking at this season as 1-0, and the best improvement comes with the second ballgame, which is next weekend in Raleigh."

Next up for NC State (2-5) is a home game against hot conference foe Virginia next Saturday.

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