N.C. State Beats UNC in Classic Game, 31-27
Posted November 10, 2007
Updated November 12, 2007
So the ball was up, hanging, arching out of T.J. Yates’ hands and down toward the end zone in North Carolina’s final try to win at N.C. State.
After almost 60 minutes of football, after all 57,583 had screamed and yelled, this game came down to one-on-one.
Hakeem Nicks for Carolina.
Jimmie Sutton for State.
Nicks, at 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, is a sophomore with immense talent, symbolizing the young, explosive program Butch Davis is building.
Sutton, a 5-11, 181-pound senior, is a Florida native who signed with Chuck Amato, lost his starting position with Tom O’Brien, and found himself back on the field in passing situations Saturday.
He was one of many Wolfpack seniors who had never beaten Carolina.
Until Saturday’s 31-27 win.
Nicks, lined up wide to the left of the UNC formation, bolted off the line on fourth-and-7 with 6.9 seconds left. Sutton, lined up across Nicks’ outside shoulder, jammed him to keep him from getting outside on a fade route.
Nicks powered that direction anyway, Sutton running with him as they rushed toward the corner of the end zone.
Yates’ pass came downward, toward Nicks’ outside shoulder. But Sutton was there, turning, reaching, pulling the ball in as the fans in red at Carter-Finley Stadium erupted in joy.
State, for the first time since 2003, could howl after playing Carolina.
“Being a senior, there was so much emotion on that play,” Sutton said. “When I saw the ball in the air, I said, ‘I’m not going to let him get that ball. It’s either my ball or the ground’s ball.’”
Sutton snatched it, just out of bounds, but it didn’t matter. N.C. State had won its fourth straight game, moving to 5-5 on the season as UNC fell to 3-7. And the Pack prevailed in one of the great games in this series.
There have been spectacular State-Carolina games before. New Wolfpack coach Lou Holtz went for two in 1972 after the Pack scored in the final minute in Chapel Hill, but Carolina held on to win, 34-33. State won a pulsating contests in Raleigh in 1973 (28-26) and 1975 (21-20). Dick Sheridan thrilled Wolfpack fans his first year with a 35-34 win in Chapel Hill.
But this game, despite the modest records of the two teams, was as anticipated as any in recent memory. Both schools ditched head coaches who were alums to find fresh leaders to invigorate their programs. And fans for both programs, with Davis at UNC and O’Brien at N.C. State, sense their teams are on the rise.
Looking for a ticket outside on Saturday?
Looking for a great game?
You got it.
The underlying themes were many.
Daniel Evans has matured as the Wolfpack quarterback. State tailback Jamelle Eugene, once third on the depth chart, could be a star.
That wave of young talent coming at Carolina will only continue. Some day, perhaps some day soon, the Tar Heels will win big games like this.
But the real lesson Saturday was that the Amato days are over, and this Wolfpack team has been forged in the manner O’Brien desires. State is playing smarter, tougher and harder than in the past, and that was obvious throughout this contest.
At the start of the season, State’s rush defense was dreadful and its offensive line play lame. O’Brien and his staff have gradually shifted players, taught their schemes and implemented the power-oriented style of play they want.
“We’re a more physical team than we were, on both sides of the ball,” O’Brien said. “That’s what we’re going to be, a physical football team.”
The big plays, O’Brien said, will come with time.
State was the stronger team Saturday. The Wolfpack had 24 first downs and the Heels 13; State rushed for 167 yards to Carolina’s 12. State is also erasing the mind-boggling mental gaffes that marked the Amato era. The Wolfpack had no fumbles and only two penalties for 15 yards in this win.
But Carolina stayed in the game with two long interception returns and a 50-yard fullback pass to Brandon Tate.
“We gave them three easy touchdowns, when it comes right down to it,” O’Brien said.
State dominated early. Eugene, who rushed for 159 yards and had 33 yards in pass receptions, scored on 4- and 5-yard runs as State led 17-0 in the second quarter.
The Pack was pushing for more with a third-and-6 at the Carolina 11. But Evans, who had been sharp throughout, threw a lazy pass to the left that missed tight end Marcus Stone and landed in the hands of UNC’s Charles Brown. Brown roared 92 yards up the field to cut State’s lead to 17-7.
Carolina’s Connor Barth kicked a 47-yard field goal and State responded with a crisp 14-yard touchdown pass from Evans to Stone for a 24-10 lead with 3:02 in the first half.
The Tar Heels erupted after halftime. Fullback Bobby Rome threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Tate on a brilliantly conceived play.
Barth kicked a 27-yard field goal. And Evans pass into the flat to Pat Bedics was deflected and grabbed by Carolina’s Kendric Burney, who bolted 76 yards for a score.
Carolina led 27-24 with 9:40 to play. State needed a huge play, and got it. Defensive lineman DeMario Pressley made a diving interception with 5:38 left when Yates was hit throwing and the ball popped free.
The Wolfpack fed the ball to Eugene from there, pushing to a first and goal at Carolina’s 1-yard line.
First down: Eugene for no gain.
Second down: Evans pass deflected.
Third down: Eugene over right tackle for the score.
But this one wasn’t over. Yates was brilliant for much of Carolina’s final drive, hitting Nicks for 18 yards on a fourth-and-10 that kept the Heels moving.
Another 18-yard pass, this one to Tate, gave Carolina a first and goal at the State 7.
Yates threw the ball away under pressure on first down.
He threw incomplete to Tate on second down with 11.0 seconds left.
He threw incomplete into the end zone with 6.9 seconds left.
And with State fans jumping in a wide swath of red, Yates lofted a pass left, looking for Nicks.
He found Sutton.
And N.C. State found a victory it desperately needed for its seniors, and its program as Wolfpack fans streamed out screaming, Wolf! PACK! Wolf! PACK!
In the elated Wolfpack locker room, State senior Martrel Brown stood up, thanked the team for his first win over UNC, and told his teammates he loved them.
They responded: We love you, too!
And so this day ended, a day when O’Brien and his team made their mark, and a day when Davis and his team showed they won’t give in, and this is only the begining of a new era in this rivalry.