TIM PEELER: Offense gets rolling, but defense fades
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH – Just when Chuck Amato started feeling good about his offense, under the direction of junior quarterback Marcus Stone, something went wrong with his defense.
The result? A last-second touchdown by Akron that sent the Wolfpack (1-1) a 20-17 loss, its first of the 2006 football season.
The Wolfpack offense had done little throughout Saturday’s game in front of 56,103 spectators at Carter-Finley Stadium until the final minutes of the third quarter. Stone’s passing wasn’t too sharp and his receivers’ hands were a little too brittle.
Trailing 7-0, Amato and his team had relied on a stellar defensive effort to keep the game close, as the Zips spent much of the first three periods backed up against their own goal line. A second-quarter NC State fumble set up Akron’s first score, a 1-yard touchdown run by the Zips’ Dennis Kennedy.
After that, Akron’s next seven possessions started at their own 20 or worse, and on four of those drives the Zips were in worse field possession when they gave the ball up than when they started.
For the second week in a row, the Wolfpack allowed negative yardage in the third quarter, holding the Zips to minus-4 yards in the period.
Stone got the Wolfpack on the scoreboard following a short punt that gave the Wolfpack the ball on the Akron 42, as John Deraney kicked a 42-yard field goal with 1:33 remaining in the third.
On the Wolfpack’s next possession, things looked pretty dire after center Leroy Harris’ snap went way over Stone’s head, putting the Wolfpack in a second-and-32 situation. Stone clearly gained confidence as he hit eight consecutive passes, beginning with a short swing pass to Darrell Blackman that went for 15 yards and followed by a 21-yard pass to John Dunlap that gave the Wolfpack a first down.
Two plays later, the Wolfpack scored its first touchdown of the day on a 20-yard pass from Stone to Blackman.
Akron went nowhere on its next drive, and Wolfpack safety J.C. Neal partially blocked John Stec’s punt, the Wolfpack second tipped punt of the game.
The Wolfpack drove down to the Akron 4, but Stone could not get a first down on fourth-and-1.
Amato was confident that his defense would be able to stop the Zips, which had relied much more on a running offense than the passing of senior quarterback Luke Getsy. However, Getsy completed a 21-yard pass to wide receiver David Harvey to get out of the shadow of the south end zone, then found Harvey again for a 63-yard completion to the Wolfpack 10-yard line.
Kennedy scored three plays later to give the Zips a 14-10 lead with 5:18 remaining on the clock.
“Before you even ask, yes I would have done the same thing, going for it on fourth down,” Amato said after the game. “Why? Because to that point in the second half, our defense had given up about 32 yards.
“In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought they could go 96. I didn’t think it was a gamble.”
There was another bad center snap on the Wolfpack’s next possession and Akron got the ball on its own 33-yard line with 3:55. But the defense held again and Stone got the ball with 2:30 remaining.
On first down, he completed a pass to Blackman for 11 yards. On the next play, as the pocket collapsed around him, Stone managed to get free long enough to push the ball into the hands of Toney Baker, who broke to the outside for a 26-yard gain to the Akron 16.
Stone got the ball inside the 10 on a keeper after he was flushed out of the pocket, but the next two plays netted nothing but a two-yard loss. On fourth and 5, Stone threw a short swing pass to Jamelle Eugene, who raced untouched for an 11-yard towndown, giving the Pack a 17-14 lead with 1:07 remaining on the clock.
The Wolfpack got a 15-yard celebration penalty following the score, which was assessed on the kickoff. That was a key play in the game, since Deraney’s kick was fielded at the 10 and brought out to the 33-yard line.
“We just have to be able to stay under control in situations like that,” Blackman said. “Adrenaline was rushing. When we scored, everybody just ran into the end zone. In the future, we have to keep our heads when we score a touchdown. We have to keep our heads and celebrate on the sidelines.”
On the final possession of the game, Getsy hit consecutive passes of 31 and 11 yards to Jabari Arthur, and before the Wolfpack defense knew it, the Zips were in NC State territory, driving towards the goal line.
Getsy was flushed out of the pocket on second and 10 from the NC State 25, but managed to race for 14 yards to the 11. After a timeout, he rushed another 10 yards to the 1, but only 3 seconds remained on the clock.
On the game-winning play, Getsy handed the ball to Kennedy, who was hit at the line of scrimmage, but fell forward with the ball crossing the goal-line just before his knee hit the ground.
The play was reviewed, but, as Amato found out when he went underneath the north end zone grandstands to ask, there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the play.
It was a difficult loss that left several players speechless. But there was reason for Amato be optimistic about coming games, especially after the offense got moving in the second half.
On the day, Stone completed 16 of his 32 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. But most of his productivity – 11 completions on 15 attempts, 160 yards and two touchdowns – came in the second half when the Wolfpack most needed it.
“He did some awfully good things, and if that is a sign of things to come, with that running game that we have, you never know what is going to start that spark,” Amato said. “I am hoping that (today will be it.) He did it, not once, but twice, and he came that close to doing it a third time.
“This (kind of a performance) is what we have been waiting for. Now, he has to come back and do it again, so he has that consistency.
“Our players believe in that young man. He leads them. And next Saturday will tell.”
The Wolfpack travels to Southern Mississippi next weekend for its first road game of the season.
NOTES: The last time NC State lost on the last play of a game was in 1992, when Georgia Tech’s Scott Sisson kicked a 29-yard field goal in Atlanta to beat the Pack 16-13 as time expired. … The loss was only the second non-conference loss at home since Amato arrived in 2000. The other was two years ago to Ohio State. … DaJuan Morgan and J.C. Neal were credited with the two partial punt blocks on the day. … AJ Davis did not play in the game because of a hamstring injury. It was the first time in 37 career games that Davis has been out of the lineup. … Andre Brown suffered a thigh bruise in the first half and did not play in the second half.You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.