Wolfpack torch Flames
Published 11:55 pm Saturday, September 3, 2011
RALEIGH — T.J. Graham returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, James Washington rushed for two scores and North Carolina State pulled away to beat Liberty 43-21 on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
Washington had scoring runs of 1 and 19 yards, Brian Slay returned a fumble 52 yards for another score, and Curtis Underwood added a 33-yard touchdown run for the Wolfpack.
Making his first start for N.C. State, Mike Glennon was 18 of 31 for 156 yards with a late touchdown in the first game since Russell Wilson’s departure.
Francis Bah returned a fumble 32 yards for a TD and Mike Brown was 22 of 39 for 279 yards with a touchdown. Brown added 77 yards rushing but turned it over six times. The Flames outgained N.C. State 406-318.
All eyes during preseason camp in Raleigh were on the quarterback position after the exit of Wilson, a former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year and all-league quarterback who led N.C. State to a 9-4 finish and bowl win last year. He was released from his scholarship after he skipped spring practice once again to play baseball, and wound up transferring to Wisconsin. In his debut two nights earlier, he accounted for 317 total yards and three touchdowns in the 11th-ranked Badgers’ rout of UNLV.
Glennon didn’t have nearly as easy a time against an opponent that was not intimidated from a lower subdivision. Liberty, the four-time reigning champion of the Big South Conference, knocked off Bowl Subdivision member Ball State last year and kept things interesting all night against the Wolfpack.
The Flames pulled to 23-15 midway through the third on Brown’s 27-yard scoring pass to Summers and his 2-point conversion toss to Pat Kelly. After Underwood countered with his touchdown 19 seconds later for N.C. State, Matt Bevins followed with field goals covering 50 and 38 yards to make it 30-21 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
While Liberty couldn’t get anything going after that, N.C. State scored twice in the final 5 minutes. Glennon threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mario Carter and Washington tacked on a 19-yard scoring run.
The Wolfpack trailed 7-3 late in the first half when Graham woke them up with a big play. He fielded a punt at the Liberty 18 and zipping through the right side en route to his second career punt return for a touchdown. That marked the start of an impressive final 3 1/2 minutes of the half in which N.C. State seemed to finally get going.
D.J. Green intercepted Brown on the second play of the ensuing drive, and N.C. State marched 57 yards to go up 16-7 on Washington’s 1-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left before halftime.
Then in the third quarter, Earl Wolff stripped the ball from Brown and Slay returned it for a score to make it 23-7.
But — when he wasn’t giving the ball to the Wolfpack — the elusive Brown was a handful for them to handle all night. The Flames consistently found ways to move the ball against an experienced defense that played seven starters from 2010.
But it was a big play on defense that gave Liberty its short-lived lead. One play after Audie Cole recovered a Brown fumble near midfield, Walt Aikens drilled Glennon on a corner blitz to jar the ball loose. Bah scooped it up and raced 32 yards for a touchdown to put Liberty up.