Wolfpack Intercepts 31-24 Win Over Connecticut
Oct 11, 2003
By Tony Haynes
Raleigh, N.C.--NC State made sure the 500th football win in school history would be one to remember. With Connecticut trying to get into position for a potential game-winning field goal attempt, NC State's Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay picked off a Dan Orlovsky pass and raced 56 yards to give the Wolfpack (4-3) a stunning 31-24 victory over Connecticut (4-3). In scoring his second touchdown of the day, Aughtry-Lindsay, a junior linebacker, crossed the goal line with just five seconds remaining, setting off a wild celebration by 50,119 fans at Carter-Finley Stadium.
NC State would need all the heroics Aughtry-Lindsay could provide and more against the Huskies, who rallied from a 14-point deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Trailing 24-10, UConn moved to within seven points on a 31-yard scoring pass from Orlovsky to O'Neil Wilson with 5:57 left. On its next drive, Connecticut pulled even when Orlovsky hooked up with receiver Shaun Feldeisen on a 4th down scoring pass that covered 11 yards.
After another NC State drive stalled, the Huskies got the ball back at their own 14 with 47 seconds left. Choosing to go for the win, UConn got a couple of first downs and moved to its own 42-yard line before linebacker Pat Thomas hit Orlovsky just as released the ball, giving Aughtry-Lindsay a chance to pick off the underthrown pass and race untouched into the end zone. And although time was running down, the linebacker scored the winning points with time to spare, thanks in part to an escort provided by rover Andre Maddox.
"Because of the pressure, the quarterback just threw it up and it landed in my hands," said Aughtry-Lindsay, who scored NC State's fifth and six non-offensive touchdowns of the season. "When I caught it, I thought about going to the sideline but I saw two of their linemen over there. As I ran across [the field] I saw Andre Maddox come across my face and I knew he would slow No. 87 (Feldeisen) down. Once I saw Maddox slow down 87, I knew I was in there. I wasn't going to let anyone prevent me from getting into the end zone.
Said NC State head coach Chuck Amato: "I was getting concerned he wasn't going to make it and we wouldn't have time, especially when he cut back instead of going outside. I thought he was going to go down in the middle of the field to line up for a field goal just in case he didn't score. But I'm so happy and relieved that he got in. What a great thing for Freddie. Two big plays and two touchdowns for a linebacker. Just a great day for him."
With the two teams tied 10-10 at the half, Thomas and Aughtry-Lindsay teamed to make their first big play early in the third quarter to give NC State the lead. Blitzing from his linebacker spot, Thomas jarred the ball loose from Orlosvky just as he was turning out of a play-action fake. Aughtry-Lindsay picked up the fumble and rumbled 48-yards for his first career touchdown.
Later in the quarter, an NC State offense that had been stymied most of the day put together one of its few sustained drives, marching 46 yards on six plays. The drive ended when quarterback Philip Rivers, who was 23-of-42 for 234 yards and two touchdowns on the day, found tight end T.J. Williams in the left corner of the end zone with just 20 seconds remaining in the quarter to give the Pack 24-10 advantage.
From that point on, however, the NC State offense would have no luck moving the football on a Connecticut defense that was stout most of the afternoon. Even with the return of tailback T.A. McLendon from a hamstring injury, the Wolfpack could muster only 323 yards of total offense.
"We weren't very good as a whole and I wasn't very good," said Rivers, who moved up to 7th on the all-time NCAA passing list. "They were definitely well prepared. You could tell that they were ready to play the game and they made great adjustments to certain formations to take away what we like to do. It was probably my worst game of the year."
Rivers broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter by hitting Cotra Jackson on a 3-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0. Blindsided by a blitzing linebacker on the play, Rivers barely got rid of the ball, which appeared to be fluttering to the ground before Jackson made a juggling catch on his back. But Connecticut came right back with a 67-yard drive that ended with Orlovsky hitting Feldeisen with a four-yard TD pass. The two teams then traded field goals near the end of the half to make it a 10-10 game.
Orlovsky was impressive, especially in the two scoring drives that pulled the Huskies even in the fourth quarter. He finished 21-of-39 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Connecticut, which rolled up 452 yards against the NC State defense, also got 166 rushing yards on 29 carries from powerful tailback Chris Bellamy.
"I'm very, very proud of our football team and the way we hung in there," said UConn head coach Randy Edsall. "We needed to be patient on offense, and I thought we were. On defense, we played our hearts out against a terrific offense. We came up a little bit short."
On Orlovsky's interception that decided the game, Edsall said, "the bottom line is we had a young man that wanted to make a play and do something spectacular, and he made a poor decision."
Orlovsky's two big turnovers came against NC State blitzes. Otherwise, the Wolfpack had difficult time getting pressure on him with just four people.
"We felt like we had to [blitze]," Amato said. "You can do two things: drop eight and rush three or rush eight and cover with three. Even on their last touchdown, we came after them."
In his return, McLendon had 12 carries for 32 yards as the Wolfpack offense continued to have its problems on the ground. But the battle up front was clearly won by the Huskies, who stopped the run and also pressured Rivers for most of the game.
"That's a good football team," Amato said of Connecticut. "They're big and physical. Their front is as big as I've seen in a long time."
For NC State, it was a big win that will do down as one to remember.