NCF Nation: Noles-Pack-102810

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State tight end George Bryan grew up in Castle Hayne, N.C., about 90 minutes away from campus, rooting for the Wolfpack and going to games almost every weekend with his parents.

Never before, though, has he been able to cheer like this.

Then again, never before has Bryan been at the center of it, and bowl-eligible before November.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Bryan
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesGeorge Bryan's touchdown put the Wolfpack up for good in a closely contested matchup of the top teams in the Atlantic Division.
“I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the whole world.”

Bryan, who caught the game-winning touchdown in a 28-24 upset of Florida State, is part of something NC State hasn’t seen in seven years. The win over the Seminoles put NC State in a position to have its best season since the Philip Rivers era. The Wolfpack (6-2, 3-1 ACC), who now trails Florida State (6-2, 4-1) in the Atlantic Division standings by a half-game, are bowl-eligible before November for the first time since 2003, when they finished 8-5. The Pack have never won more than six games under fourth-year head coach Tom O’Brien, and are now in position to have their first winning season since 2005.

O’Brien -- one of the most even-keeled coaches in the business -- was quick to shift the focus to Clemson, the Wolfpack’s next opponent. He’s right. There is no margin for error considering Florida State still leads the Atlantic Division. But the fact that NC State is in a position to win the division is reason to celebrate in Raleigh.

“We fought through this thing,” O’Brien said. “Six wins is significant. We’ve had one winning season here in the last six years. It’s pretty amazing to be in the situation we’re in and to be able to continue this, but we’ve got to go to Death Valley and make it all happen again.”

Thursday night’s thriller is going to be hard to repeat.

NC State scored four straight touchdowns to climb out of a 21-7 deficit, and took the lead on one of the gutsiest calls of the season. On fourth and inches, NC State lined up to kick a field goal but called timeout for a change of plans. O’Brien couldn’t quite see where the ball was, and offensive coordinator Dana Bible kept saying, “We’re six inches, we’re six inches!”

Quarterback Russell Wilson found Bryan wide open in the end zone with 2:40 left to play.

“Sometimes, in spite of myself, we win games,” O’Brien deadpanned.

The defense preserved the win with an all-out blitz. Linebacker Nate Irving, who was taken out of the game for a sprained thumb, was the one who recovered the fumble. It was a play-action, and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder extended the ball too far and lost it.

“It means a lot, just from the way we won the game,” Irving said. “We had to come back and fight, just one play at a time, offense and defense. We all had to stick together and face that team, a great Florida State team and come back and win.”

Bryan remembers his senior year in high school, in 2006, watching John Dunlap catch the game-winner against Florida State. Bryan has seen some big wins at NC State, but he’s never been a part of one like this.

“This is definitely the biggest,” Bryan said. “This is the one we needed the most and we got it.”

Of course, it only makes the next one bigger.

"Hopefully we're going to do this for a long time," O'Brien said. "It's just the start. The next game is the biggest game of my tenure."


ACC blogger Heather Dinich talks with NC State tight end George Bryan.

ACC blogger Heather Dinich talks with NC State quarterback Russell Wilson.

Fumble cost FSU the game

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In a game filled with mistakes, Florida State made the final one -- and the most costly. A fumble on NC State's eight-yard line ended any chance of a comeback and the Wolfpack handed Florida State its first ACC loss of the season, as the Noles lost 28-24.

The loss put NC State atop the Atlantic Division standings. I'm heading down to the locker room for interviews now. Check back for more later.

QB battle part II

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- And there you have it, the first interception of the game. NC State quarterback Russell Wilson turned the ball over on a play that started on FSU's 11-yard line.

There is no worse turnover than one that happens in the red zone. Not only did it kill a possible scoring drive, but it killed NC State's momentum. In a game that is so close -- and with so many missed tackles and both defenses giving up big plays -- turnovers will make the difference. So far, NC State is losing that battle 2-1.

Quarterback battle continues

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- It looked like a forward pass, really it did. But NC State caught a break when officials ruled Christian Ponder fumbled, and Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson turned it into a 21-21 tie with his 20-yard rushing touchdown.

At the end of the first half, it seemed as if Ponder would be the difference in the game. Now, Wilson is taking over. Both look much better than they did in their previous games in which they had three turnovers each. But Wilson has been under more pressure Thursday night than Ponder. NC State started to change that when it sacked Ponder and forced him into that fumble.

Pack makes it a game

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State running back Mustafa Greene is stepping it up when the team needed him most. With Dean Haynes sidelined with a possible concussion, Greene came out of the locker room at the half and helped the Pack control the clock and move the ball to make it a game again.

Greene had six carries for 27 yards on a scoring drive that cut NC State's deficit to 21-14. If NC State is going to stay in this game, it can't afford to turn the ball over, and it has to continue to sustain drives like that.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Here's a quick breakdown of the first half between Florida State and NC State:

Turning point: In the second quarter, NC State halfback Dean Haynes fumbled, and Kendall Smith recovered it on the Pack's 18-yard line. Haynes, the Pack's second-leading rusher, suffered a possible concussion and was sidelined for the rest of the game, and Florida State took the lead, 14-7, for the first time five plays later.

Stat of the half: 14. That's how many total yards NC State had in the second quarter. The Pack was outgained 167-14. Russell Wilson was sacked three times, including twice on back-to-back plays. Brandon Jenkins, Markus White and Nigel Bradham each have one quarterback sack so far.

Best player in the half: FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. He entered the game with lingering soreness from an elbow injury he sustained in the win over Boston College, but showed no signs of it as he accounted for all three of the Seminoles' touchdowns. He threw only five incomplete passes, rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State halfback Dean Haynes will miss the rest of the game with a possible concussion. Not good news for the Wolfpack, as Haynes is the team's second-leading rusher.

FSU has the momentum

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- It only takes one turnover to change a game, and NC State's fumble in the second quarter led to Florida State's 14-7 lead. That turnover could come back to haunt the Pack. It only took five plays and 18 yards for Florida State to take the lead, and quarterback Christian Ponder accounted for both touchdowns.

Ponder, who is playing with a brace on his right arm because of his injured elbow, is playing tough. He's taken ownership of this offense, and the team is clearly feeding off of it. He's running tough, lowering his shoulders and fighting for every yard. NC State's best defense right now is to keep him off the field.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In this game a year ago, Florida State and NC State combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense. Not today. Much of that can be attributed to the improvement of both defenses.

NC State quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked twice on one drive, and NC State's defense responded by forcing FSU to punt -- again. Florida State hasn't even totaled 50 yards yet, but the Noles continue to hurt themselves with penalties. It's much more of a defensive struggle so far than it was a year ago.

Penalties turning back FSU

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- A 19-yard gain turned into a five-yard penalty. A touchdown turned into a holding call. The Seminoles are beating themselves right now with penalties. Just when it seems like they're capable of finding the end zone, the flag is thrown. Florida State only has one first down so far. The Noles are going the wrong way in this game.

FSU offense struggling

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Bye week? What bye week? Florida State looks like it hasn't had extra time to rest and prepare for this game, and the receivers are struggling and slipping.

It rained in Raleigh last night, as well as earlier before the game, so the field conditions are probably a factor. Regardless, with the struggles FSU's passing game has had so far, the Noles might fare better if they stick with what they do best -- run the ball.

NC State defense sets the tone

October, 28, 2010
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The hype has gone to Florida State's defense, and deservedly so, but it was NC State's defense that set the tone here in the first quarter and gave the Pack a short field to work with.

The result was a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Russell Wilson looks remarkably calm and composed. He's making use of his tight end, George Bryan, and running back James Washington. NC State's ability to run the ball early has opened some things up in the passing game. It was a nearly flawless opening drive for NC State.