N.C. State beats Miami to become bowl eligible

Published 1:14 pm Sunday, November 30, 2008

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — North Carolina State’s season looked lost barely a month ago. Now, thanks to the impressive play of a rookie quarterback, the Wolfpack is waiting to find out whether its late-season comeback will be enough to get the team to a bowl game.
Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for a score Saturday to help N.C. State beat Miami 38-28, making the Wolfpack eligible for a bowl after four straight wins.
Wilson threw for 220 yards and ran for 58 more for the Wolfpack (6-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who pushed ahead for good on Wilson’s 32-yard pass to Owen Spencer late in the third quarter. Andre Brown also scored twice and ran for 93 of the Wolfpack’s 219 rushing yards against a Miami defense ranked 20th nationally.
N.C. State entered November at 2-6 before beating instate rivals Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina to keep its bowl hopes alive. Yet, unlike last year in a similar scenario, the Wolfpack made good on their last chance to become eligible for the postseason.
N.C. State — which battled a line of injuries to key players earlier this season — became the first team to lose its first four ACC games then win its last four since the league went to an eight-game schedule in 1992.
Three of the four wins came by double-digit margins, including a 41-10 romp against Tar Heels last week.
Yet it’s possible there might not be room for the Wolfpack in the postseason. Ten league teams are bowl eligible and the ACC has nine bowl tie-ins, from the Orange Bowl invitation for the league champion to the EagleBank Bowl against Navy in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 20.
At the least, the win showed a maturity from last year’s group, which erased a 1-5 start with four straight wins before ending the season with a 20-point loss at Wake Forest followed by a 37-0 home loss to Maryland. This time, the Wolfpack pushed ahead for good in the third quarter and had three of its four interceptions after halftime to hand the Hurricanes (7-5, 4-4) their second straight loss.
Javarris James ran for two touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes, who led 21-20 midway through the third. The Hurricanes were coming off a 41-23 loss at Georgia Tech on Nov. 20, which ended their chance of reaching the ACC title game by winning out.
They allowed 472 yards rushing against the Yellow Jackets and their triple-option offense, then watched as Wilson, Brown and Jamelle Eugene each ran for at least 58 yards.
Wilson’s mobility was probably the biggest headache. The redshirt freshman — celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday — had a 29-yard scramble to set up his short touchdown toss to Brown on the Wolfpack’s first drive, and then scored from 29 yards on a dazzling back-across-the-field run early in the second quarter to tie the game at 14.
Wilson also extended his school-record streak of 226 passes without an interception, the longest in the nation. In his past eight starts, Wilson has thrown 16 touchdown passes with no picks.
After James’ 1-yard run pushed the Hurricanes ahead, the Wolfpack got a 42-yard pass from Wilson to T.J. Graham to reach Miami territory. On the next play, Wilson found Spencer on the left side — despite the ball being tipped by Sean Spence about two-thirds of the way through its flight — and Spencer spun free of Ryan Hill’s tackle and into the end zone with 5:51 left in the third quarter. Wilson connected with Eugene on the 2-point conversion to make it 28-21.
The Wolfpack pushed that lead to 10 on Josh Czajkowski’s career-long 42-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, then used an interception from Nate Irving to set up Brown’s 4-yard touchdown run for a 38-21 lead with 2:35 left.