RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Jamelle Eugene ran for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead 1-yarder with 1:41 left, to help North Carolina State hold off North Carolina 31-27 in a wild finish Saturday.
Eugene finished with 159 yards rushing for the Wolfpack (5-5, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who won their fourth straight game overall and ended a three-game losing streak in the instate rivalry. Daniel Evans also threw for a score as N.C. State blew a 17-point first-half lead before forcing a late turnover to set up Eugene's final score.
The Tar Heels (3-7, 2-4) certainly made it interesting after a terrible start, returning two interceptions for long touchdowns and getting a 50-yard fullback pass as their only offensive score of the game. But they couldn't answer Eugene's final plunge, driving all the way to N.C. State's 7-yard line with 6.9 seconds left before coming up empty when T.J. Yates couldn't connect with Hakeem Nicks in the end zone on fourth down.
Charles Brown returned an interception 92 yards for a touchdown and Kendric Burney returned one 76 yards for a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter for North Carolina, which was eliminated from bowl contention in its first season under Butch Davis.
N.C. State, meanwhile, is suddenly surging after looking like little more than a lost cause a month ago. And once Yates' final pass fell incomplete, the Wolfpack celebrated on the sideline before running to the packed student section once the horn finally sounded.
But it almost turned into a morale-crunching loss. Brown's interception return in the first half gave the Tar Heels life after trailing 17-0, and Burney's grab-and-run of a bobbled pass put North Carolina ahead with 9:40 to play. Then, after North Carolina forced a three-and-out, the Tar Heels were in position to work on the clock and increase their lead.
But Willie Young managed to pressure Yates in the pocket, hitting his arm and knocking the ball into the waiting arms of DeMario Pressley. That put the Wolfpack at North Carolina's 25-yard line with 5:38 left, starting a slow march that ended when Eugene found an opening on the right side to put N.C. State ahead for good.
Located about 30 minutes apart, the schools were meeting for the 97th time in a rivalry that has remained intense even as both struggled to reach bowl games in recent years. Last year's game proved as much; a one-win North Carolina team that had already announced John Bunting was out as coach at the end of the season beat N.C. State, a loss that helped lead to the firing of Chuck Amato at his alma mater.
Both teams emerged with established names -- North Carolina landed Davis, the former Miami coach, while N.C. State lured Tom O'Brien away from Boston College -- and headed into the rivalry game with new coaches for the first time in 73 years.
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