Brown - who ran for all of his 88 yards in the second half - and the Wolfpack simply took advantage of what the Tar Heels gave them. And they wisely stayed on the ground for 29 of 34 plays in the final two quarters and walked away with a 34-17 victory before a sellout crowd of 60,250 at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
"It was a disappointing loss," said UNC coach John Bunting, whose team is now 0-4 at home this year. "The entire team is extremely disappointed because they realize the opportunity that they had to beat a team here at home in front of our fans that was undefeated and shock the world. We didn't do it."
It was really pretty simple. The No. 14 Wolfpack (7-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) weren't getting the production through the air they expected. Although they had success, the 'Pack still trailed 17-7 five minutes into the third quarter. After the Tar Heels scored on James Faison's 5-yard TD reception with 10:04 left in the third quarter, State decided to go almost strictly to the running game.
NCSU went to true freshman workhorse T.A. McLendon for consecutive runs of 13, 4, 9, and 38 yards before Philip Rivers scored on a 1-yard plunge two plays later to cut the margin to 17-13. The extra point was blocked by UNC's Michael Waddell, which appeared to shift momentum right back to the Tar Heels (2-4, 0-2).
But on Carolina's next play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Darian Durant dropped back to pass. Under heavy pressure - a constant in the second half - Durant ran backwards at an angle, hoping to find a corner to turn. Yet with the ball in one hand, he was tripped by State's Terrance Martin and fumbled the ball and Wolfpack linebacker Dantonio Burnette fell on it on UNC's four. One play later McLendon went around right end untouched for another touchdown, giving State a 20-17 lead with 7:03 left in the quarter.
"It was devastating," Durant said about the fumble, and what it led to. "It's one thing to fumble in their territory. It's another thing to fumble in ours. And then to fumble inside the red zone is really bad.
"I'm not surprised by what happened," Durant continued. "The ball was wet out there all day because of perspiration. It just slipped out of my hand."
The Wolfpack tacked on another score after chewing up 46 yards on the ground and 28 through the air on a drive that salted the game away at its final margin with 4:33 left in the contest.
But the story of this game was State's physical dominance in the second half. After UNC scored on its opening drive after intermission, the Tar Heels were held to just 43 total yards the rest of the way. On the other hand, the Wolfpack had 220 yards, with 165 coming on the ground.
"We did a fine job in the first half," Bunting said about handling State's ground attack. "We were getting a lot of hats to the football. McLendon, who is a tough runner, was getting hit by one, two and then three guys. In the second half, particularly with the perimeter run, we just did not get enough people there."
The sensational McLendon, who ran for 164 yards on just 22 carries - an average of 7.5 per attempt - with two scores, made it look easy on nearly every carry. He had ten runs of at least five yards, including gainers of 21, 11, 15, 16, 13, 9, and 38 yards. As for Brown, he also had ten runs of at least five or more yards, which included dashes for 14, 9, 8, 8, 9, and 12 yards.
It was State's power that wore down and wore out the youthful Heels.
"They were able to run the ball on us," cornerback Kevin Knight said about the Wolfpack. "We are pretty disappointed in ourselves. You have to stop the run in this game, and we didn't stop the run in the second half."
"As a defense we need to step up to the challenge and we didn't do that as well as we wanted in the second half," said freshman linebacker Doug Justice.
The Wolfpack struck first, driving 80 yards on a variety of misdirection and straight-ahead plays to open the game, and scored on its 11th play of the drive on a 5-yard McLendon run for a 7-0 lead 3:55 into the contest.
The Tar Heels cut the margin to 7-3 on Dan Orner's 29-yard field goal with 14:44 left in the first half after a 16-play, 86-yard drive. UNC's possession included an end around, a shovel pass, and some amazing individual efforts by Jawarski Pollock on a leaping reception and by Durant on a 10-yard scramble.
A charged up UNC defense then stopped State's suddenly stagnate offense three-and-out, and the surprisingly imaginative Heels proceeded to drive 50 yards for a go-ahead touchdown - a 22-yard pass from Durant to tight end Bobby Blizzard - for a 10-7 lead 10:12 left before intermission.
UNC appeared in control of the game after it opened the second half with an exciting 78-yard scoring drive to go up 17-7 with 10:02 left in the third period. The march was highlighted by a 21-yard reception by Zach Hilton, another leaping grab by Pollock for 18 yards, and a tough 13-yard reception by freshman Derrelle Mitchell over the middle.
But State then put on its hard hats and went to work.
"We have half a season left and it is our job as coaches to get this team ready to play and see if we can correct those errors," Bunting said. "There were assignment errors, tackling errors and again. I am really surprised, we really were tackling well in the first half and making a lot of plays. We stopped them on third down and we didn't do it in the second half."
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.