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N.C. State rallied midway through the second half, scoring 14 points in a two-minute period spanning the late third and early fourth. The first touchdown resulting from a bizarre tipped pass in the end zone and the second from an 87-yard punt return by T.J. Graham.
N.C. State extended its lead to eight midway through the fourth when kicker Josh Czajkowski connected on a 24-yard field goal, giving the Heels one final chance with 5:35 left.
Despite a record-setting day, Yates couldn't close out N.C. State in his final home game as a Tar Heel. Yates completed 5-of-6 passes on the final drive including a 1-yard score to Christian Wilson but threw an incomplete pass on the potential game-tying two-point conversion to seal the win for N.C. State.
Upon Further Review
Late in the third quarter N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson added another controversial play to the history of the North Carolina/N.C. State rivalry.
On a fourth and goal from the 2-yard line, Wilson rolled out, avoided the pass rush by running backward before lobbing a pass into the end zone. UNC defensive back Da'Norris Searcy out-jumped a crowd of receivers and defensive backs and batted the pass toward the ground. But before the ball could land incomplete, N.C. State wide receiver Owen Spencer dove underneath it to make the touchdown grab.
After an official review, the ruling on the field stood and N.C. State cut the deficit down to two.
"Once the quarterback starts scrambling we are taught to just get on a man and plaster your guy," Searcy said. "I got on a man and was running with him, when all of a sudden I saw the ball in the air and when I went up for the ball I saw his hands trying to catch it so I was just trying to keep it away from him and it ended up when I tipped it someone else came up and caught it."
The touchdown -- which was one of the more confusing plays of the season -- had several elements that could have been up for review. First, did Searcy or N.C. State receiver Jarvis Williams hit the ball? Second, if Williams hit it, did he come from out of bounds to illegally touch it? Third, did Spencer control the ball before he went out of bounds?
After the game, UNC coach Butch Davis said the officials didn't explain to him what was reviewed.
"You'd like to try to lobby and argue -- did you look at all these things? -- but it's not a court of public opinion and they're not going to sit there and listen to it," Davis said.
On the following series, a dejected UNC offense went three-and-out setting up a quick punt which N.C. State receiver T.J. Graham returned 87 yards for a touchdown. In a matter of 1:45, the Wolfpack went from down nine to up five.
"You look like you're going to get them off the field. They're not going to score any points and all of a sudden -- instead of batting the ball down and it's incomplete -- they come up on a third-down-and-30 Hail Mary throw in the end zone," Davis said. "It's a huge psychological play."
Making matters worse, after the Spencer touchdown, UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick was ejected after a scuffle with Jarvis Williams. Williams was also ejected.
After the loss of Reddick, N.C State pounded the heart of the Carolina defense with its running attack. Midway through the fourth quarter the Wolfpack rushed eight times for 50 yards on a clock-draining drive, ending in a 24-yard field goal by Czajkowski.
Who's Got Your Back?
Saturday afternoon started as a record-setting performance for UNC quarterback T.J. Yates.
On his first passing attempt of the day, Yates became the all-time leader in attempts in North Carolina history (1,203). Yates set two more records during the game becoming the single-season leader in yards (2,920) and the all-time leader in passing yards (8,879) -- overtaking Darian Durant in all three categories.
But while Yates destroyed the Tar Heel record book on Senior Day, the N.C. State pass rush shredded the Carolina offensive line. N.C. State came into the game tied for ninth in the country in sacks and got to Yates seven times.
"Sometimes you expect your backside is protected and it's not," Davis said. "You stand in the pocket and hope to make some plays. You've got to give them credit, they've got guys that can rush the passer."
N.C. State had seven players register at least a half sack with J.R. Sweezy leading the way with 1.5. Earl Wolff led the Wolfpack with 13 tackles -- nine solo and four assisted. Linebacker Nate Irving was also a big factor in the pass rush, registering seven tackles, a half sack and forcing one fumble.
"They added him into a lot of the pressure packages and they tried to make everybody block one on one," Davis said of Irving.
Yates said some of the blitz packages caught the team off guard.
"They ran a lot of stuff that they didn't show on film," Yates said. "They did a lot of odd stuff, three down linemen, and they were kind of minnows in a bucket running around everywhere."
A week ago UNC challenged Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor to make plays with his arm and the senior quarterback torched the Heels for 249 yards and two touchdowns. This week the UNC coaching staff had a different approach -- choosing to come after Wilson.
UNC pressured the N.C. State quarterback early -- forcing a 3-for-8 start for just 26 yards -- but Wilson adjusted, finishing with 163 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-29 passing.
"We just thought Tyrod's legs were more dangerous than his arm. We didn't want him to get out," UNC defensive back Deunta Williams said. "Russell, we felt he was dangerous with his legs as well, but he's extremely accurate when he's throwing the ball. … We thought we could get to him with the athletes we have."
Wilson was also a threat with his feet, carrying the ball 10 times for 58 yards including a crucial 34-yard run on 3rd and 18 midway through the third quarter. Wilson's scramble set up Spencer's dramatic tip touchdown reception four plays later.
"We had him at third and long and we let him break out," Williams said. "That was a critical error."
With the win, Wilson improved to 3-0 against North Carolina with an average of 233 passing yards and 2.6 touchdowns.
The loss meant also meant Davis fell to 0-4 against N.C. State, a fact he acknowledged abruptly after the game.
"It's something that we're not very happy about," Davis said.