Today, there are 11 days until NC State kicks off their 2015 campaign against the Troy Trojans at Carter-Finley Stadium. In anticipation of the season, one in which measured optimism is everywhere in regards to the Pack, I thought it would be cool to look back at some of the most memorable non-conference games that the Wolfpack has played in.
To set up my boundaries, I limited it the non-conference games over the last 20 years. With 11 days to kickoff, here is one guy’s list of the 11 most memorable non-conference games over the last 20 years (not necessarily top 11 wins, but top 11 memorable games).
11. 1998 Ohio at NC State. Is this really one of the top 11 games? You wouldn’t think so just by seeing the MAC team as the visiting team. However, this was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, this game was played in a rainstorm as Hurricane Earl was stopping by for a visit. It was pretty bad most of the night, which negated a lot of the speed the Wolfpack had over the Bobcats. With under two minutes to go, State was down 31-27 and it appeared that a big upset was going to take place. But Roderick Brown broke through on a punt, blocked it, and under-appreciated WR Chris Coleman scooped it up and scored a touchdown to win 34-31. The second reason this was memorable was that it gave the team a jolt of confidence it needed before the following week’s visit by #2 Florida State. Chris Weinke came to town and threw 6 interceptions and Torry Holt torched the FSU defense again as the Pack upset the Seminoles 24-7. In my opinion, if State doesn’t beat Ohio, no way do they beat FSU the next week.
10. 1999 South Carolina at NC State. This was a match-up of Mike O’Cain and Lou Holtz. Holtz was returning to Carter-Finley after coaching the Pack in the mid-70s. When the coaches talked before the game on the field, it was reported that Holtz looked around at the stadium and said that nothing had changed here since he left. The game wasn’t that interesting as Holtz didn’t have a good team that year in Columbia as State shut out the Gamecocks 10-0. It was not long after that season that long needed upgrades to Carter-Finley Stadium began in earnest.
9. 2004 Ohio State at NC State. In the past 20 years, this non-conference tilt between Ohio State and NC State easily was the hardest ticket to buy on the secondary market. Everyone wanted to be at this game. The previous year, the two teams had played a 44-38 three overtime game in Columbus. The fanbase was really looking forward to seeing the rematch. The game was a defensive struggle throughout. The difference in the game was Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, who kicked a school record 5 field goals in a 22-14 victory. The Pack, who limited the Ohio State offense to 137 yards, aided the Buckeyes by having 4 turnovers.
8. 2012 Tennessee vs. NC State. The Chick Fil-a Kick-Off Classic in Atlanta in the Georgia Dome was host to the Vols and the Pack to open the season on a Friday night in late August. The Pack was lead by Mike Glennon while the Vols countered with Tyler Bray. With State leading 7-6 after a Tony Creecy touchdown, the Vols exploded for 16 points in 38 seconds to take command of the game. Glennon threw four interceptions and the defense gave up 3 long touchdown plays in the first quarter, two to JUCO transfer (and future first round draft pick of the Vikings) Cordarrelle Patterson. The showcase game was a good stage for the Wolfpack to be on but they didn’t play well enough to leave the Georgia Dome with a victory as the Vols won 35-21.
7. 2000 NC State at Indiana. After coming back to beat Arkansas State in overtime to start off the Amato era, week 2 was a trip to Big 10 country to face Indiana. Although not your Big 10 power, the Hoosiers jumped out to a 28-13 halftime lead and entering the fourth quarter, the Hoosiers had a commanding 35-20 lead. But young freshman Philip Rivers lead a comeback for the ages and when Koren Robinson caught a 47 yard TD pass with 54 seconds left, the comeback was complete as the Pack won 41-38. Rivers threw for 401 yards. Amato said afterwards that after the first two comeback wins, the entire team believed every word the coaches said the rest of the season.
6. 2000 Arkansas State at NC State. The Chuck Amato era began against Arkansas State, a school that not many of the Carter-Finley faithful had probably ever heard of. The Amato era started out with a true freshman, Philip Rivers, as the quarterback. A new coach with a true freshman QB. A recipe for a potential disaster. Down 17-7 in the 3rd quarter, lots of people were sensing that disaster. It took a field goal on the last play of regulation by Kent Passigham to send the game to overtime. In the second OT, Ray Robinson scored a touchdown and then the defense caused a fumble to secure the opening game 38-31 victory. Rivers passed for 397 yards and three touchdowns. Little did we know that similar results were in store for the next week.
5. 2002 NC State at Navy. The Wolfpack went to Annapolis undefeated. As a fan in the stands, spending time in Annapolis, the academy, and the surrounding area was a great memory. Watching the midshipmen march into the stadium was one of the coolest sights I have seen as a Wolfpack fan. As far as the game, Philip Rivers and the Pack were up 21-0 in less than four minutes into the game while Navy had run 2 plays. The Wolfpack cruised to a 65-19 win. In getting blasted by the Pack, Paul Johnson…yes, the same Paul Johnson who is the Georgia Tech coach now, said this about the game:
“That was the worst [loss] for me ever,” said Johnson, who went 62-10 at Georgia Southern before coming to Navy in December. “It wasn’t a lot of fun. I’ve been on the other end of a few of these games, but not this end.”
4. 1998 Syracuse at NC State. These bitter ACC rivals…oops, they were non-conference foes on this day, were in a rematch of a scintillating Wolfpack overtime victory the previous year. This time, the 11th ranked Orange came to Raleigh on a Thursday night. The focus was on Donovan McNabb, who was one of the leading Heisman contenders at the time. The Pack was coming off a painful loss at Baylor the week before, which took a little luster off the upset over Florida State. This time, NC State did not need any overtime, as they jumped out to a 28-10 halftime lead while holding McNabb to 17 first half yards. The defense completely destroyed any Heisman campaign as the Wolfpack won 38-17, finished off with the goalposts coming down for a second time in three weeks.
Start at 7:15 to see the Syracuse game highlights.
3. 1999 NC State at Texas. The start of a new football season, which also turned out to be Mike O’Cain’s last, was highlighted by a prime time game in Austin against Major Applewhite, Mack Brown, and the Texas Longhorns. The Wolfpack, with new look helmets, were not given much of a chance to win the game or even really compete against the Longhorns. If you look at the final stats, you would agree with that assessment. The Longhorns outgained the Pack 372-171. The Pack had the ball for 6 minutes in the second half. Just hearing that, you know that Texas won the game. WRONG! Don’t forget about special teams. Terrence Holt blocked 2 punts as the Wolfpack blocked 3 punts total that resulted in 16 points. The final block, with just over 3 minutes to go, was returned for a TD and that gave the Pack the final points needed in a surprising 23-20 victory.
Watch the first three minutes for highlights from the Texas game:
2. 1997 NC State at Syracuse. The start of the season had the Wolfpack traveling up north to Syracuse. Donovan McNabb was supposed to be the better quarterback when compared to Jamie Barnette. The Pack was coming off of a second consecutive 3-8 season while 13th ranked Syracuse was coming off a 34-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Kickoff Classic. Even though the Orange jumped out to a 14-0 lead, the Pack never gave up and started clicking and got the game into overtime tied at 24. After Syracuse scored, the Wolfpack quickly scored a touchdown. O’Cain had already decided to go for two points and the win. A confused defense lead to an easy pitch and catch from Barnette to Holt as the Wolfpack stunned the Orange 32-31.
As North Carolina State lined up for the 2-point conversion to go for the victory, passing up the safe point after, the Wolfpack could see the fear and confusion in the eyes of the Syracuse defenders. That made the pass from Jamie Barnette to Torry Holt, who was streaking into the left corner of the end zone, almost a formality, capping a 32-31 upset that the Wolfpack knew it had as soon as it hit the line of scrimmage.
”Two plays before we scored, I said we’re going for 2,” North Carolina State Coach Mike O’Cain said. ”I didn’t know what defense they would be in, but what I felt was they weren’t confident. They’re thinking: ‘We just got hit. We just got a touchdown scored against us. This game should have been over a long time ago. This game shouldn’t be like this.’
”They were not a confident team at that point, and it was the time to attack them.”
North Carolina State tight end Mark Thomas said: ”I think we kind of surprised them. They have a young defense and when a defense sees an offense that has confidence, it kind of puts a question in their mind. When we got up to the line, it wasn’t about what they were going to do. It was what we were going to do and what we were going to get done. They weren’t really ready. We saw them jostling around, and we could see they were in a formation that we wanted.”
1. 2003 NC State at Ohio State. The Wolfpack, lead by senior Heisman candidate Philip Rivers, traveled to Columbus to take on the defending national champion Buckeyes. The game was to highlight the two best sophomore running backs in America, TA McLendon and Maurice Clarett. With McLendon limited due to injury and Clarett suspended, the story arc changed but the quality of the game was not diminished. Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes were up 24-7. But Rivers lead the Pack on a furious rally to send the game to overtime. After two overtimes with two touchdowns each, the teams went to a 3rd overtime. The Buckeyes scored but missed on the 2 point conversion. The Pack had a first down at the 5 yard line and looked like they were destined to score. 2 quarterback sneaks got the ball to the 2 but on 4th down McLendon was stopped inches short of the goal line. The Buckeyes held on for a 44-38 victory which was an instant classic. I have watched the replay a few times, but can only watch it through the second OT.
Did I miss any? It was hard choosing a loss as the most memorable non-conference game over the last 20 years, but being in attendance and as good of a game that was, to me it was the most memorable. Hopefully, the next few years we will be able to add new games to this list with games against Mississippi State and West Virginia coming up.