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    Wilson, Defense Thump No. 25 Tar Heels, 41-10
     
     

    BY TIM PEELER
     
    CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
    North Carolina’s season-high six turnovers certainly helped, but redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson also engineered three touchdown drives of 68 yards or longer as NC State steam-rolled No. 25 North Carolina 41-10 Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium.

     

    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 just played phenomenal, hellacious defense,” said defensive end Willie Young, one of the big reasons the Tar Heels were held to just 56 rushing yards and 203 yards of total offense. “We played with such tenacity. We kept coming back at them and coming back at them. We were the best team today. That just comes from playing team ball.

     

    “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.
     
    Wilson set up two touchdown drives with passes of 55 yards and 54 yards, as the Wolfpack set season-highs in passing (279), rushing (187) and total offense (466).

     

    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.
     
    The Pack, which ranked near the bottom of the NCAA last year in turnover margin, has had only two turnovers in the last six games, the fewest turnovers in a streak of six games in school history, dating back to 1959.
     
    It’s the third straight win for the Wolfpack (5-6 overall, 3-4 ACC), all over Big Four rivals. It’s the first time State has beaten UNC, Duke and Wake Forest in the same season since 1986 and the first time since it has beaten the state's other four Division I-A schools since that same season. In NC State coach Tom O’Brien’s two seasons as head coach, the Wolfpack is 6-1 against the other Division I-A schools in the state.

     

    “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.”
     
    The victory, for the second year in a row, set up the possibility for the Wolfpack to become bowl eligible by winning its season finale, which will be next Saturday against Miami at Carter-Finley Stadium. Last year, however, State lost to Maryland 37-0 to finish O’Brien’s inaugural season at 5-7 overall. Game-time for the contest against the Hurricanes will be announced Sunday.

     

    “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.
     
    Then late in the first quarter, Wilson engineered a 97-yard touchdown march, the longest scoring drive of the season for the Wolfpack, to give his team a 10-0 advantage with 14:20 remaining before halftime.
     
    “The percentages of doing that are very low,” O’Brien said. “That’s the way we are structured right now. We grind it out and find a way every now and then to make a big play.”

     

    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 second play of the second quarter, Wilson hit tight end George Bryan in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown reception to cap the longest drive in 21 games for the Wolfpack. Last year, quarterback Harrison Beck led the team on a 98-yard touchdown drive against Boston College.
     
    The Tar Heels closed the gap to 10-3 on a Casey Barth field goal with 8:48 remaining in the first half.

     

    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 the Pack’s second possession, Wilson scrambled around and found an open Owen Spencer down the field for a 54-yard pass to the UNC 20-yard line. Two plays later, Jamelle Eugene scored the Wolfpack’s second touchdown of the day on a one-yard run, to give State a 17-3 lead with 9:53 remaining in the third quarter.
     
    The Tar Heels, which benefitted from starting its drive on the 40-yard line thanks to an out-of-bounds kickoff, answered a little over three minutes later when sophomore tailback Ryan Houston scored his team’s only touchdown of the game on a five-yard run, narrowing the lead to 17-10 with 6:44 remaining in the period.

     

    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.
     
    Safety J.C. Neal stripped the ensuing kickoff out of the hands of Richard Quinn’s hands and recovered it on the UNC 21-yard line. On the next play, Wilson hit sophomore Owen Spencer with a 21-yard touchdown pass to give NC State a 31-10 advantage.
     
    The Wolfpack added another Czajkowski 32-yard field goal and a 1-yard touchdown run by Eugene following linebacker Robbie Leonard’s interception return to the UNC 1-yard line late in the game.

     

    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 tim_peeler@ncsu.edu.

     


     

     

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