NC State linebacker Audie Cole saw the support disappear from Carter-Finley Stadium last Saturday --literally -- as the home crowd began to bail on the home team, which trailed Maryland 41-14 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“Half the stands left, thought the season was over,” Cole said.
Senior receiver T.J. Graham heard the fans boo as he headed into the locker room at halftime.
“That hit kind of hard with the seniors; we felt like we were getting booed off our senior day,” Graham said. “After that we kicked it into the next gear.”
As in, 35-point, fourth-quarter gear. Who knew it even existed?
Getting to the seventh win this season was like finding water in the desert for the Wolfpack. For most of the season, it was a mirage, and through the majority of three quarters against Maryland last week, it was on the brink of disappearing. NC State, though, never quit. The Wolfpack rallied for what was the biggest comeback in school history and the second-biggest comeback in ACC history to beat Maryland 56-41 and become bowl eligible.
NC State has been one of the ACC’s most inconsistent teams, not only from week to week, but also half to half, and no game proved that more than the regular-season finale against Maryland. While it wasn’t the championship-caliber season they had hoped for, NC State won three of its final four games, including an upset of then-No. 7-ranked Clemson, and has momentum to build on heading into the postseason.
“It’s quite an accomplishment from where were sitting a few weeks ago,” Cole said. “But in the long run, I think it’s kind of a disappointment, too, the way we shot ourselves in the foot in the beginning of the year. But in the past few weeks I’d say it’s quite the accomplishment. Nobody believed we were going to come in and play well against Clemson, and we played probably one of our best games of the year against them. We came out slow against Maryland and then somehow found a way to pick it up and win the game and now we get another.”
Officials from the Belk Bowl in Charlotte are hoping NC State is available for selection on Sunday, and it will be the program’s third bowl appearance in the past four years. NC State began the season 2-3, and a surprising 14-10 loss to Boston College on Nov. 12 put the Pack in a must-win situation for the final two games of the season. Their bowl hopes seemed to be over at that point, with Clemson looming on the schedule, but NC State stunned everyone with a 37-13 win.
Once again, NC State has made a turnaround in the second half of the season under coach Tom O’Brien, and a lot of it has to do with the health of the team. Heading into the Maryland game, NC State had started eight different lineups in 11 games because of injuries, and a total of 12 players missed the Georgia Tech game with injuries.
With key players healthy, in the three games leading up to the Maryland game, NC State’s defense had allowed just nine points per game and a total of three touchdowns. Cornerback David Amerson leads the nation in interceptions with 11, and Graham set an ACC record in kickoff returns. Quarterback Mike Glennon accounted for six touchdowns in the win over Maryland. There are plenty of positives for the team to build on heading into the bowl game, none bigger than the way it finished the Maryland game.
“It looks good to the bowl committees,” Graham said. “They’re going to want us, because we’re having a pretty hot November. Other than that, it’s confidence. We are a pretty good team. We’ve flashed greatness at times and done the complete opposite at times. It’s just nice knowing we can overcome anything, basically.”