Wilson, Defense Thump No. 25 Tar Heels, 41-10
BY TIM PEELER
The NC State defense intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles, while the special teams caused a fumble on a kickoff return, the most turnovers created by an NC State team since the 1998 upset of No. 2 Florida State.
“We are a new team.”
Wilson was again brilliant under center, scrambling when possible, throwing the ball away when necessary and completing 17 of 28 for a career-high 279 yards. He threw for two more touchdowns, marking the fifth consecutive game he has had multiple scoring passes. That’s the most games for a Wolfpack quarterback since Philip Rivers had six in a row in 2003.
The Wolfpack played error-free football, as Wilson continued his streak of pass attempts without an interception. He now has 203 passes without a pick, breaking Jamie Barnette’s 10-year-old mark of 179 attempts. It’s also the longest active streak of any Division I-A quarterback.
“These games are important to us,” O’Brien said. “We are going to take all our games seriously, especially if they are against in-state rivals.”
“We didn’t come this far to stop,” said O’Brien, whose team lost four straight this season before its turnaround. “Last year, this team stopped after beating North Carolina and thought the season was over. We have to guard against that this week. We haven’t worked this hard to get into this position to not to play our best game of the year against Miami.”
In each of the last six games, the Wolfpack has played its best game of the season and seems to be energized by the possibility of going to a bowl game for the first time since beating South Florida in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
“It would mean a lot to go to a bowl game,” Wilson said. “That is the goal going into the season. To get to a bowl game and win an ACC Championship. We weren’t able to get to the championship game, but we can still get to a bowl.
“We just have to continue what have been doing, but do more of it. We have to come out this week and practice harder, practice better. We have to keep executing.”
It has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that once had a four-game losing streak in the middle of the season. But in each of the last three of those losses, the injury-riddled Wolfpack were either leading or tied in the fourth quarter and let those games slip away.
“The thought [of this being a lost season] tried to creep in our heads, but we didn’t let it,” said senior tailback Andre Brown. “With the talent we have, we just knew something good was going to happen. We were going to go out and continue to play Wolfpack football and get some wins.”
The last three weeks, they have.
Saturday’s win started out by forcing the Tar Heels to fumble on its first two possessions. The offense managed only three points from those two turnovers, after Josh Czajkowski missed one 39-yard field goal attempt and then made another from the same distance.
On the drive, Wilson broke Jamie Barnette’s school record of consecutive passes without an interception. Two passes later, Wilson threw a pass that was nearly picked off, but Jarvis Williams took the ball away and turned it into a 55-yard reception deep into UNC territory.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, freshman T.J. Graham returned a short kick 41 yards to the UNC 40-yard line. But the offense could not move the ball, and turned the ball over on downs at the 35-yard line.
On State’s next possession, Wilson again drove his team from one end of the field to the other, making liberal use of his scrambling ability.
At one point, the Wolfpack faced a fourth and 2 at the UNC 28-yard line. Wilson was forced to scramble backwards out of the pocket, towards the NC State sideline. He eventually found fullback Taylor Gentry on the sidelines for an 8-yard, first-down reception.
“That was a magic act,” O’Brien said. “When he keeps making plays like that, helps us and is demoralizing for the defense.”
On the next play, the Tar Heel defense forced Wilson out of the pocket and he scampered 26-yards to the UNC 2-yard line. Senior Andre Brown scored his team’s third touchdown of the day on a two-yard run.
The final touchdown capped a 24-0 scoring run for the Wolfpack to finish out the game.
“It is extraordinarily disappointing and frustrating to play as poorly as we did today,” North Carolina second-year coach Butch Davis said. “The things we did today during the course of the game give you absolutely no chance to win the ball game. There will never be a football game ever played that you can lose a turnover ratio as dramatically as we did and still give yourselves a chance to win.”
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.