Bradley Pierson turned on the jets, fought through a stiff arm and brought down Miami return man Graig Cooper to prevent a big punt return. When NC State has it's punter playing with that kind of intensity, its safe to say Tom O'Brien had his team ready to play on Saturday.
A focused Wolfpack team led by quarterback Russell Wilson became bowl eligible for the first time since the 2005 season with a 38-28 win over visiting Miami at Carter-Finley Stadium. Wilson finished the game with 230 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Wilson now has six straight games of at least two touchdown passes and hasn't thrown a single interception in that span.
The Pack (6-6, 4-4 ACC) defense gave up some big plays but made a few of its own, picking off four passes to help the team secure its fourth straight win. Andre Brown ran for 94 yards and scored twice in his final home game of his career while Owen Spencer also caught a touchdown pass from Wilson. Miami (7-5, 4-4) lost its second straight game after winning five straight earlier in the year.
Wilson got the Pack off to a quick lead thanks to both his arms and his legs. The freshman converted a long third down play thanks to a tipped pass that ended up in the hands of Brown, then scrambled himself for 29 yards. That put the Pack at the three-yard line, and two plays later Wilson found Brown in the right side of the end-zone to give his team an early 7-0 advantage.
But the Hurricanes stormed back thanks to some questionable playing calling by the Pack and the arm of quarterback Robert Marve. The Canes first scoring drive consisted of one play, a 69-yard pass to tight end Dedrick Epps. The Pack then gave the Cane offense good field position thanks to an interception thrown by Brown, who took a hand-off from Wilson and heaved the ball down field to a waiting Miami defensive back. Running back Javarris James took advantage, running for 28 yards on the drive and finishing it off with a 1-yard leap over the pile to give Miami a 14-7 lead.
But the Pack didn't let Miami keep its momentum for long, as the Pack responded with a scoring drive of its own. Against it was Wilson making the big plays, converting a third down pass to TJ Graham then finishing the drive off with a breath-taking run all over the field. Wilson ran from sideline to sideline, juked defenders and went completely untouched on a 29-yard touchdown scramble that tied the game.
The Pack went ahead late in the second quarter on a 40-yard field goal from Josh Czajkowski. The Pack got inside the 10-yard line but Wilson took a sack on third down to set up the field goal. The Pack against got inside the 10 on its first play of the second half, getting all the way to the 3-yard line before Miami stopped Wilson on a third down run to force a 24-yard field goal that made it 20-14 in favor of the Pack.
But Miami would retake the lead midway through the third quarter, as Marve again hit Epps on a big play to set up a touchdown. Epps hauled in a 26-yard pass to put the Canes deep in Wolfpack territory, and James picked up his second rushing touchdown of the day with another 1-yard scamper to make it 21-20 in favor of the Hurricanes.
But Wilson wasted no time in regaining control of the game, this time using his arm to retake the lead. Wilson threw a strike to Graham down the middle for a 43-yard gain that put the Pack into Miami territory. On the very next play Wilson went down field again, this time to Owen Spencer, who hauled in the ball after a Miami defensive back tipped it and ran in for a the 32-yard touchdown. O'Brien elected to go for two to make it a seven point game and the Pack converted as Wilson hit Jamelle Eugene on a slant route in the endzone. The Pack tacked on a 42-yard field goal with nine minutes left to lengthen the lead to 31-21. Brown would add a rushing touchdown late in the fourth and Miami would score with under a minute left to make it a 38-28 final.