by Mike Potter
UNC hosts N.C. State today in what is usually the toughest football ticket in the state, and this time will be no exception as there are scalpers galore swarming the historic stadium. It’s one of those cool, crisp, sunny fall afternoons they’re going to describe as a perfect day for football as the schools meet for the 100th time.
Both teams are already bowl-eligible, as the Wolfpack is 7-3 and 4-2 in the conference and the beleaguered Tar Heels are 6-4 and 3-3.
A win this week and another at Maryland next week would mean State plays in the ACC title game Dec. 4 in Charlotte, although if the Wolfpack loses today and Florida State wins at Maryland that dream is dead.
The Tar Heels need to win either today on Senior Day or next week against their historic archrival Duke to finish with a winning season.
The Wolfpack has won three straight in the series.
A pretty good quarterback battle is looming between N.C. State’s Russell Wilson and the Tar Heels’ T.J. Yates.
Yates wins all the yardage battles but Wilson wins the game, as the Wolfpack prevails 29-25 to keep its hopes alive for the ACC title and a BCS bowl.
Yates completes his first 11 passes, but in the second quarter Wilson warms up.
The junior’s 48-yard pass to Owen Spencer puts the ball at the Tar Heels’ 4, and two plays later Wilson throws a bullet into the middle of Darrell Davis for a two-yard touchdown to finish a nine-play, 87-yard drive. Josh Czajkowski’s boot ties the score with 10:30 left in the half.
UNC gets some more points late in the half as Casey Barth’s 19-yard field goal at 2:38 completes an eight-play, 37-yard drive.
The Wolfpack retaliates with a 47-yard Czajkowski field goal with 1:08 left and it’s 10-10.
But the Tar Heels make it 13-10 at the break on a career-long 49-yard field goal from Barth with 15 seconds left.
Barth tacks on three more from 21 yards out with 9:42 left in the third, at the end of a nine-play, 35-yard march.
And he adds three more with 4:38 left in the period on a 38-yarder, finishing a nine-play, 67-yard drive.
The Wolfpack fights back late in the third with a controversial touchdown. It’s set up when Wilson scrambles for 34 yards to the UNC 4 on third-and-18. He then completes a two-yard scoring pass to Spencer in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-2 with the TD holding up after further review to finish the 11-play, 67 yard drive. After UNC’s Kevin Reddick and State’s Jarvis Williams are ejected for fighting, Czajkowski’s kick with 52 seconds left in the period cuts the spread to 19-17.
And State catches some lightning with 14:07 left in the game, as T.J. Graham takes a punt and scoots 87 yards down the left sideline. Czajkowski boots and it’s 24-19.
Czajkowski increases the lead to eight with 5:41 left, when a 24-yard field goal ends an 11-play, 56-yard drive.
But the Tar Heels come back to cut it to two with 65 seconds left as Yates hits Christian Wilson in the back of the end zone from a yard out to complete a 10-play, 79-yard drive. The two-point conversion attempt goes awry.
The Wolfpack recovers the onside kick and can’t do much with it, and then Terrell Manning tackles Yates in the end zone with 27 seconds left to complete the scoring before UNC’s second onside kick attempt goes awry.
Wilson completes 15 of 29 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and rushes for 26 more. Spencer catches five passes for 92 yards and the TD, while Mustafa Greene rushes nine times for 43 yards and catches three passes for 29 more. Earl Wolff has 13 tackles while Audie Cole has 12 and forces a fumble as they hold the Tar Heels to minus-7 yards rushing.
Yates completes a school-record 33 passes in 44 attempts for 411 yards and the two TDs in his final home game. He now has eclipsed his own school single-season record with 2,920 passing yards has 8,879 career passing yards to pass Darian Durant for No. 1 in school history. Elzy catches nine passes for 178 yards and the score and adds 32 yards on nine carries.
They said it …
NCSU coach Tom O’Brien: “Well, just another State-Carolina game. It went down to the end just like it seems the last three or four have. I’m really proud of this football team. This was a tough assignment coming over here and playing, and this is a heck of an athletic football team. They have tremendous power and speed and Yates has had a great year. He set a bunch of records against us and everything else, but our kids hung in there and we just grind and grind and find a way to make a play. We were fortunate to make more plays near the end than they did.”
UNC coach Butch Davis: “Obviously we’re very disappointed with the outcome of the game today. Two teams battled their hearts out and we did not make enough plays to win the game. I told our players in the locker room there are some things that are the measure of a man — how you compete, how you play, the level of intensity you play with. I think from an effort standpoint I could not be more pleased with the way our kids played, (but) State played well enough to win and they deserved to win today.”
Russell Wilson: “(On the TD pass to Spencer) I rolled out and there was nothing really there at first. I just tried to fake them out with spin move. I knew it was fourth-and-2 so I had to throw it up. We had to make a play and it was big for us. I saw one of the tall guys back there and threw it up. Our defense did a great job the whole game. They fought and they fought, and gave us a chance. This is everything we’ve worked for since Day One when I got here. We’ve had our ups and downs. Our team’s really together now. Credit UNC because they played a great game, but it’s a big win for us. We have an opportunity and we have to get ready for it and seize the moment.”
T.J. Yates: “This one was pretty tough. We did a lot of good things on offense. They were bringing so much pressure that the screens were working for us. I’m not sure how many yards Anthony Elzy had, but it was probably close to a million. What hurts the worst is that I never got the better of (State). They’re a good football team, you have to give them credit. They’ve done a good job the last couple of years doing what they need to do to beat us. We definitely left some things out there on the field today, and that’s the most disappointing thing.”
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack has already had a better season than most observers would have imagined. And that the Tar Heels need to beat Duke to avoid a very disappointing conclusion.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Graham’s punt return for the TD.
UNC leads 63-31-6.
UNC: Lost 2.
NCSU: Won 2.
UNC at Duke, Nov. 27, TBA
NCSU at Maryland, Nov. 27, TBA