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    Eugene, Sutton Lead Pack to 31-27 Win Over Heels

    Updated: 6:36 p.m., 11/10/2007 to add quotes, stats




    RALEIGH, N.C. As coach Tom O’Brien promised last spring, NC State’s football players won’t be sitting at next year’s athletics banquet, thanks to Saturday’s 31-27 victory over North Carolina at Carter-Finley Stadium.


    The team had been denied that privilege when athletics director Lee Fowler asks all athletes who beat the rival Tar Heels to stand up for recognition in recent years after losing three consecutive games to its Triangle neighbor.


    “That one kind of hurt my soul a little bit,” said senior offensive lineman Kalani Heppe, who was left seated at last year's banquet. “There were a bunch of boys who had been here a long time, and none of us had ever gotten to stand up for that.”


    But O’Brien promised Wolfpack Club boosters during his spring meetings that his players would be on their feet next spring, and thanks to the play of tailback Jamelle Eugene and a last-ditch defensive stand that kept the Tar Heels out of the end zone on the next-to-last play of the game, O'Brien's promise became a reality.

    With 20 seconds to play, the Tar Heels had first-and-goal at the NC State 7-yard line, knocking on the door for a game-winning touchdown. But UNC quarterback T.J. Yates threw three consecutive incomplete passes. On fourth down, Yates threw a fade pass to Hakeem Nicks in the end zone that was intercepted out of bounds by cornerback Jimmie Sutton III to end the Tar Heel threat.


    “They made some plays to get down there [to the goal-line],” O’Brien said. “But four times from the 7-yard line and they couldn’t get it in for the touchdown, that is a credit to our defense right there.”


    The Wolfpack (5-5 overall, 3-3 ACC) took over for one final play to run out the clock, ending its three-game losing skid to its nearest rival and stretching its winning streak since its bye week to four consecutive games.


    Eugene, a workhorse for the Wolfpack offense in the absence of injured tailbacks Toney Baker and Andre Brown, scored three rushing touchdowns, including what proved to be the game-winner with 1:41 remaining in the game, to lead the Wolfpack to its first win over the Tar Heels since 2003. Eugene finished the game with a career-high 159 yards on 32 carries and had five catches for 33 yards.


    “It was a phenomenal game (by Eugene),” O’Brien said. “He’s been giving us a workmanlike effort. He’s been carrying a heavy, heavy load. I haven’t had a back that has had to do this in six or seven years. You have to give him a lot of credit and you have to give the offensive line a lot of credit.


    “There were some seams in there that he found and where there weren’t seams, he made them.”


    Besides the goal-line stand at the buzzer, the biggest defensive play of the game came with five minutes left when Yates went back to pass and was nabbed by defensive end Willie Young as he began to throw the ball. Yates tried to stop the throw, but it left his hand and landed on the fingertips of NC State defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, who stumbled forward to the UNC 25-yard line with 5:38 remaining in the game.


    Relying primarily on Eugene, who carried the ball on seven of the drive’s eight plays, the Wolfpack marched down the field to the goal line to retake the lead on Eugene’s third touchdown of the day.


    “It just makes me feel good that they trust me we the ball and want to give me the ball in pressure situations,” said the sophomore from Naples, Fla.


    But he has certainly earned that trust with his hard work on and off the field.


    “I knew from the beginning that Jamelle was a great player and a great athlete,” said tight end Marcus Stone, who made his first career touchdown reception earlier in the game. “When the ball is in his hands, good things are going to happen for us.  I would say he is the hardest working guy on the team, on the field and off the field.


    “Pound-for-pound, there is no doubt that he is the strongest guy on this team. He’s kind of a freak show in the weight room.”


    The defense played well all game long, forcing two turnovers that led to 10 Wolfpack points. It also held the Tar Heel offense to just 12 rushing yards in the entire game and limited them to just two of 12 third-down conversions.


    It was the third consecutive game that the Wolfpack actually gave up a fourth-quarter lead and came back to win.

    “We talked about this earlier in the year about this being a team that needed to learn how to win,” O’Brien said. “This team has found out a little bit about how to win.”


    The Wolfpack which had some good karma on the sidelines in first-round NFL draft pick Mario Williams and former head coach Dick Sheridan, who owned a 6-1 record against UNC from 1986-92 -- took a quick 17-0 lead in the game by scoring on its first three possessions.


    The first score, a 40-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka with 9:58 remaining in the first quarter, was set up by safety DaJuan Morgan’s interception of Yates on the game’s opening drive. It was Morgan's third straight game with an interception.


    The second score came on a 4-yard touchdown run by Eugene at the end of an 88-yard drive. Like the game-winning drive, the ball was in Eugene’s hands on almost every play of the nine-play drive, as he rushed six times for 55 yards and had one five-yard catch.


    The Tar Heels missed on their only scoring opportunity of the first quarter when kicker Connor Barth missed a 52-yard field goal into the wind with 31.9 seconds remaining in the quarter.


    Eugene scored again early in the second quarter on a six-yard run.


    The Tar Heels got back into the game with 10 unanswered points, after UNC cornerback Charles Brown intercepted a Daniel Evans pass and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown, the third longest interception return in school history.


    After a Wolfpack short punt, the Tar Heels scored again on a 47-yard field goal by Barth, this one with the wind at his back.


    But Evans led the Wolfpack on another long drive before the half ended, marching 84 yards on nine plays with the help of a 40-yard reception by wide receiver Donald Bowens. The drive, which gave State a 24-10 lead, ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Evans to a wide-open Stone, the first career touchdown reception by the former starting quarterback.


    The third quarter belonged to the Tar Heels. They scored the second half’s first points on a 50-yard touchdown pass from fullback Bobby Rome to wide receiver Brandon Tate. They also had several opportunities to tie the score after two short punts by NC State’s Bradley Pierson that gave the Tar Heels the ball in Wolfpack territory.


    But the Wolfpack defense held Carolina’s offense to a single field goal in those two possessions, a 27-yarder by Barth on the first play of the fourth quarter, closing the margin to 24-20.


    The Tar Heels took their only lead in the game, 27-24, with 9:40 remaining in the game when redshirt freshman Kendrick Burney picked off a tipped pass and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown. It’s the first time since 1994 that the Tar Heels have returned two interceptions for a touchdown in the same game.


    But a heavily partisan crowd was behind the Wolfpack the entire game, and they were rewarded at the end with the heroics of Eugene and Sutton.


    “The fans were tremendous,” O’Brien said. “It was a great college atmosphere. They are the best fans in this state, by far. It’s not even close there. They gave this team a huge boost there.”


    The Wolfpack travels to Winston-Salem next week to play defending ACC champion Wake Forest.


    You may contact Tim Peeler at




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