Wilson pushes Pack past Pitt, 38-31

RALEIGH -- NC State missed field goals, committed penalties and botched clock management. But the Wolfpack also had Russell Wilson, who erased all those mistakes while leading the Pack to a 38-31 win over Pittsburgh.

NC State kept shooting itself in the foot, and Russell Wilson kept bailing them out. On third and 12 the Wolfpack quarterback scrambled for 21 yards. On fourth and 14 in the fourth quarter and the Pack trailing, he rips off another 21 yards. With the score tied, he forces two draws two straight pass interference calls. Wilson ran for 89 yards, threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns.

But mostly he helped the Pack win its first game against an FBS opponent, as the Pack rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to beat Pittsburgh 38-31 on Saturday evening at Carter-Finley stadium. The Pack (3-1) made it interesting when a bad snap went sailing over Wilson's head only to be recovered by Pittsburgh (3-1) inside the Pack's 10-yard line, but the defense held strong on four plays to put the game away.

The Pack couldn't keep the ball out of its own territory for most of the first half, and the Panthers took advantage. Pittsburgh took the opening kickoff into Pack territory and scored a few plays later to make it 7-0, with some help from a 15-yard late hit penalty on the defense. Dion Lewis finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.

On its ensuing possession special teams let the home team down again, as a poor return combined with a illegal block in the back had the Pack backed up from the start. Three plays later the Pack was punting, leading to another possession starting inside their own territory. The Panthers would convert the possession into a 35-yard field goal.

State responded to the deficit with an impressive drive of its own. The Pack turned to Eugene on the drive, giving the ball to the senior back eight times on the drive. But the big play came from the little used Taylor Gentry, who found himself wide open in the flat and took the pass to the house for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Pack back within a field goal.

But while the Pack seemed to have the momentum on its side again, poor tackling and poor field position again came back to bite. The Panthers pinned State inside its own 5-yard line with a punt and their defense stood, forcing a punt that again gave Pittsburgh the ball starting in Pack territory. Then on 2nd and 10, the Pack missed a tackle on Dorin Dickerson that turned a 2-yard gain into a 24-yard gain, setting up another touchdown run for Lewis to make it 17-7.

The Pack got it back to a one-score game on its final possession of the half, but left some potential points on the field because of some confusion with the clock. The big play of the drive came on 3rd and 12, where Wilson pulled off one of his patented scramble plays for 21 yards and a first down. The Pack got the doorstep on a Baker reception, but committed a false start penalty on 3rd down with 25 seconds left. After the ball was re-spotted, the officials wound the clock, a fact the Pack coaching staff didn't notice until there were just five seconds left. The error cost the Pack a chance to go for the endzone on third down, but a 25-yard field goal by Czajkowski made the score 17-10 at the half.

But O'Brien and the Pack made up for the miscue on its opening drive of the second half, hitting the endzone in just five plays. This time it was Baker who came through with the big play. On third down, he left a Pitt linebacker standing still with a juke to get open, then took the ball down the right sideline and leaped another defender to score from 38-yards out and tie the game.

But just as the Pack appeared to be taking over the game, the Panthers reasserted themselves. On its ensuing possession, Pitt marched down the field with plays of 19, 26 and 13 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown. After the Pack missed a 37-yard field goal, the Panthers went deep on 2nd and nine and hit with a 79-yard bomb to Jonathan Baldwin to make it 31-17 in favor of the visitors.

State responded though, using a big kickoff return and a face-mask penalty to start inside Pitt territory. It took just three plays for the Pack to cash in, as Wilson hit Jarvis Williams for a 33-yard touchdown down the right sideline. After the defense forced a punt, Wilson turned on the heroics in getting the Pack back to a tie game. O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth down and long inside the Pitt 30-yard line, and Wilson rewarded him with a scramble down the right sideline for 21 yards and a first down. On the next play, Wilson hit an open George Bryan in the end zone to tie the game 31-31 with 13 minutes left.

With momentum now heavily favoring the Pack, the defense stepped up. They forced another punt to put the ball back in Wilson's hands, and he didn't disappoint. On two third down plays Wilson found open receivers, drawing crucial pass interference penalties to keep the drive alive. After the second penalty, the Pack got the ball at the Pitt 2-yard line and punched it in with a Toney Baker run to take the lead for the first time all day, 38-31.

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