Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pack finally has reason to celebrate

N.C. State’s players hadn’t won in so long that they forgot how to react when they did.

Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns and ran for another Saturday afternoon as the Wolfpack broke a four-game losing streak with a 38-31 defeat of Maryland at Carter-Finley Stadium.

“Normally we come in (the locker room), and it’s kind of a somber mood,” said N.C. State defensive end Michael Lemon.

Not this time.

Coach Tom O’Brien, who had told N.C. State’s players they were a bad football team after an error-filled win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 26, encouraged the players to celebrate this time.

The Wolfpack (4-5, 1-4 ACC) still made plenty of mistakes against Maryland. Wilson threw three interceptions, including one that Alex Wujciak returned 70 yards for a touchdown.

N.C. State’s wide receivers dropped three passes that should have been caught for touchdowns. Donald Bowens fumbled a punt, and the Wolfpack kickoff coverage team couldn’t stop Torrey Smith on an 82-yard return for a touchdown.

But winning, finally, was cause for celebration.

“We certainly don’t do anything easy,” O’Brien said. “That’s a heck of a win for our football team to hang in there.”

Maryland still had a chance to tie on its final drive despite losing starting quarterback Chris Turner to a left knee injury on a hit by Shea McKeen late in the second quarter.

Jamarr Robinson, a sophomore from Charlotte’s Myers Park High who had never attempted a pass in a game, replaced Turner. Robinson didn’t hurt the Wolfpack much with his arm, completing just five passes in 11 attempts for 27 yards.

He missed one wide-open receiver on a deep throw in the end zone in the third quarter. But on Maryland’s final drive, he scrambled for 11 yards and 19 yards to advance the ball to the N.C. State 34-yard line with 31 seconds remaining.

“In the two-minute drill, I thought he did some good things for us,” said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

Lemon finally gave N.C. State’s oft-criticized defense a finish to remember, though. He sacked Robinson for an 8-yard loss when Maryland had no timeouts, and then hit him while he was throwing, causing an incomplete pass on the final play.

The homecoming crowd roared its approval. Teammate Willie Young squeezed Lemon so hard that he couldn’t breathe.

“When we got in the locker room, everybody was looking for who was going to lead the excitement first,” Wilson said. “And I think the coaches did.”

While eliminating Maryland (2-7, 1-4) from bowl eligibility, N.C. State kept its slim bowl hopes alive. The Wolfpack would need to defeat Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina in its final three games to finish with enough wins to play in a bowl game.

Every one of those opponents has a winning record. But N.C. State appears to have bounced back from its lowest point, when it lost to Duke by 21 points and Boston College by 32 in mid-October.

Behind Wilson and a re-invigorated rushing attack, the Wolfpack has averaged 40 points over the last two games. Despite an ankle injury that kept middle linebacker Ray Michel out for a second straight week, N.C. State’s defense turned in its best performance in ACC play Saturday.

Even though O’Brien wouldn’t say it, though, the Wolfpack still needs to cut down on mistakes to have any chance of making a late push toward a bowl.

“The bowl is still live,” said N.C. State wide receiver Jarvis Williams. “We know what we’re capable of doing. We know we’ve got to win out, so we’re going to keep fighting.”

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

Charlotte loves this....another area team playing in the Car Bowl.