When Alan-Michael Cash stuck his hand up to block Connor Barth's 38-yard field attempt, none of the problems with this team mattered. All that mattered was the Wolfpack holding on to the slimmest of margins and holding down the No. 23 Carolina offense for one last play.
A determined Wolfpack offense took over from their, grinding out the clock to help the Pack hold on to a 28-27 win over its arch rival on Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium. It's the Pack's third-straight win over the Tar Heels, who have yet to beat Tom O'Brien since he came to Raleigh.
Russell Wilson threw for four touchdowns and the Pack defense held the Carolina offense to just three points in the second half. Wilson threw two scores each to Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer and has now thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, a mark second only to Philip Rivers' 2003 campaign.
North Carolina got on the board first but the NC State defense held strong through the first quarter. The Heels kicked a 31-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead on its first possession but failed to score on its next two. Carolina got all the way down to the Pack's 1-yard line but Jarvis Byrd forced a fumble from Ryan Houston and CJ Wilson covered it up in the endzone to keep the Heels off the board. The defense stood strong on Carolina's third possession, forcing the Heels to a three-and-out.
The Heels finally broke out on the first play of the second quarter, when TJ Yates hit Jheranie Boyd in the back corner of the end zone to make it 10-0 in favor of the Heels. The play would set up a hectic second quarter that saw five touchdowns scored by the two teams
Down two scores, the Wolfpack offense finally awoke. After going three-and-out on its first three drives, Wilson and the Pack broke out on its fourth possession. Marching steadily down the field, the Pack used 11 plays covering 70 yards to score its first touchdown of the day. Wilson found Jarvis Williams behind the Carolina defense for a 7-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 10-7 in favor of the Heels.
But it took Carolina just two plays to regain its 10-point cushion, as the Pack sailed the kickoff out of bounds to give them the ball at the 40-yard line. One play later, Johnny White took an end around 40 yards to the house for the Tar Heels as the hapless NC State defense fell back into its old habits. Wilson answered back, as the Pack gained 44 yards on penalties before Wilson found Williams again for a 13-yard score.
Carolina got the final touchdown of the half as Yates again escaped pressure and heaved the ball downfield to a wide open Boyd for a 70-yard touchdown. The Pack tried to answer with 41 seconds left and the ball on its own 44-yard line, but poor clock management left the Pack without enough time to get in field goal range as the Heels took a 24-14 lead into the locker room.
The Pack offense put up the first touchdown of the second half, hitting a bomb on the first play of its second series. Wilson found Owen Spencer streaking down the middle of the field and the junior managed to haul it in for a 56-yard touchdown. The Pack defense bent but didn't break on Carolina's ensuing possession, forcing a field goal to make it 27-21 in favor of the Heels.
Finally the Pack broke through, taking its first lead of the game in the first 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. The Pack offense used the running game to help march down the field, but it was Wilson finding Spencer again for the touchdown. This time the sophomore quarterback got rid of the ball as he was hit, throwing off his back foot but still hitting Spencer in stride for a 38-yard touchdown to put the Pack up 28-27.