It didn’t matter that two different rainstorms soaked our tailgates, that we’d lost to Virginia Tech and ECU, or that The Flagship is reeling, because on Thursday Night we won the marquee, nationally-televised ESPN Thursday night game to take control of our own destiny in the Atlantic Division.
Like my buddy said, “It’s a game of inches.” If Ponder doesn’t fake that handoff — they were running the EXACT same play as we had to take the lead — then the ball doesn’t catch on his tailback Jones’ hip and it’s very likely Ponder hits his wide open fullback in the left corner of the end zone for the winning score. Or think of it this way: 4th-and-goal from six inches out, if we kick the field goal there — even if we make it — then Florida State marches down field and kicks a field goal to win it (for the record, I never thought TOB was going to kick there; he had clock and timeouts to burn, so there was no harm in trotting out the field goal unit and talking it over).
But we went for it, we scored, and then Nate — busted hand and all — recovered Ponder’s fumble, preserving the victory. During the Alma Mater, I even caught a smile from TOB on the big screen.
Here’s a quick recap of the game, and what folks are saying.
Tom O’Brien couldn’t really see how far his team had to go for a game-winning touchdown when he called timeout with 2:44 remaining on the clock against No. 16 Florida State. He had already sent the field goal unit on the field to attempt a game-tying kick against the Seminoles, who had just taken a 24-21 lead.
But standing on the sidelines, O’Brien could hear offensive coordinator Dana Bible yelling in his earphones: “It’s only six inches! It’s only six inches!”
So O’Brien called his offensive players together and sent them back on the field to score the go-ahead touchdown on fourth and less than a yard. The Pack had already converted one big fourth-down play in the decisive drive, with quarterback Russell Wilson hitting receiver Darrell Davis with a 35-yard pass over the middle. But Davis was tackled on the 1-yard line, and the Wolfpack got no closer to the end zone on three consecutive running plays.
“I was lobbying to go for it,” Wilson said of the fourth-down play. “I knew we could make it.”
Wilson dropped back, looked to his right and found senior tight end George Bryan wide open in the back of the end zone. The two connected for the go-ahead score, 28-24, but there was still 2:40 remaining on the clock.
In a game that was statistically even much of the night, NC State and Florida State found themselves in eerily similar positions. Both had the ball inside the 5-yard line in the final minutes, trailing and with a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown.
Both opted for play-action passes. The Wolfpack executed. The Seminoles bumbled.
Bryan, who caught the game-winning touchdown in a 28-24 upset of Florida State, is part of something NC State hasn’t seen in seven years. The win over the Seminoles put NC State in a position to have its best season since the Philip Rivers era.
Wilson Rushes for Three Scores: Russell Wilson’s legs, not his arm, were the key to the Wolfpack’s victory tonight. Wilson rushed for three rushing touchdowns today.
The last NC State quarterback to rush for three touchdowns in a single game was Preston Poag, who rushed for three against Western Carolina on Sept. 3, 1988.
For his career, Wilson is now responsible for 80 touchdowns. That mark ranks second in NC State history and is fifth in the ACC record books.
But whether State can get to Charlotte or not, the significance of Thursday’s performance won’t be diminished.
After trailing 21-7 at halftime, O’Brien gambled big on a fourth-down play at the FSU 1-yard-line with less than three minutes left in the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson’s ensuing touchdown pass to tight end George Bryan only marked the beginning of the real suspense.
It wasn’t until linebacker Nate Irving recovered a Christian Ponder fumble inside State’s 10 with about 50 seconds remaining that the outcome was settled.
Wilson has not looked like himself recently. The leader of the Wolfpack offense entered the game throwing eight interceptions in his last three games, after starting the first four games with only one pick. But in the 28-24 upset victory over the Seminoles, Wilson put together one of his most complete offensive performances of the season. Wilson completed 18 of 28 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, but really burned the Seminoles with his feet. He rushed for a team-high 17 attempts for 90 yards and three touchdowns, including a 20-yard scramble where Wilson was met head-on by a pair of Florida State defenders and still willed himself over the plane for the score.
“He got after it,” said tight end George Bryan, the recipient of the winning touchdown pass. “He led us down the field and he’s a great leader. I’d follow him anywhere and do anything for him.”
Listening to the postgame show on the way out, Bobby Purcell stopped by to, as usual, praise the Pack faithful for giving us homefield advantage; even TOB seemed pleased with the noise we created on FSU’s opening drive of the third quarter, after we cut the lead to 21-14, which ended in a fumble deep in their own territory. That was also when he commented that Bible was “screaming” at him that it’s “only six inches!” and he added they knew they had a good play to run, and it was executed perfectly.
This now seems like the TOB team we’ve patiently been waiting for. We can enjoy this through the weekend, but then we still have four conference games remaining, starting next week at Clemson; lose there, and we lose control of our own destiny.
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