Then Nate Irving came up with the one the defense desperately needed Thursday night.
Wilson threw a fourth-down touchdown pass to George Bryan with 2:40 left, then Irving recovered a fumble in the final minute on the Seminoles' final drive to give N.C. State a 28-24 win in a matchup of Atlantic Coast Conference division contenders.
|Florida State at N.C. State|
Wilson ran for three scores for the Wolfpack (6-2, 3-1), who trailed 21-7 at the break before ending a three-game losing streak to the Seminoles (6-2, 4-1). With the win, N.C. State surpassed its victory total for last season and matched its best year under fourth-year coach Tom O'Brien.
Now N.C. State enters November with a shot to win the league's Atlantic Division and a spot in the league championship game in Charlotte.
"We've got to go through it again," O'Brien said. "We're in a must-win mode each and every week, if we want to go to Charlotte."
In a game that was statistically even much of the night, N.C. State and Florida State found themselves in eerily similar positions. Both had the ball inside the 5-yard line in the final minutes, trailing and with a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown.
Both opted for play-action passes. The Wolfpack executed. The Seminoles bumbled.
Trailing 24-21, the Wolfpack drove to the FSU 1-yard line only to have the Seminoles stop Wilson on a pair of sneaks and stuff James Washington's leap over the line on third down. The Wolfpack appeared ready to kick a field goal, but called timeout and sent the offense back out on the field.
This time, Wilson rolled to his right on a play-action fake, then found Bryan alone near the back of the end zone for the 28-24 lead.
"I think (the coaches) had a second to think about it and it was a good decision," Wilson said. "We were at home, on the 1-inch yard line. We had to get in."
Still, Christian Ponder -- who ran for a pair of scores and threw for one -- nearly rallied the Seminoles, driving Florida State all the way to the N.C. State 4 in the final minute. But on the fake, Ponder extended the ball too far as tailback Ty Jones ran by. Jones bumped the ball with his hip, knocking it free and to the turf.
Irving -- playing through the pain of a thumb injury suffered earlier in the quarter -- pounced on the loose ball at the 9 with 48 seconds left.
"I can't even describe it," Irving said of the pain in his right thumb, "but being a captain of the team, I couldn't let my teammates down. So I had to suck it up and show them that I was willing to go out and fight for them."
Wilson came in leading the league at 303 yards per game, but finished with 178 yards on 18 for 28 passing against the league's top scoring defense. Still, he capped the Wolfpack's first drive with a 1-yard keeper for a score, then followed with a 10-yard scoring run early in the third and a 20-yard sprint up the middle midway through the period that erased the 21-7 halftime deficit and tied the game.
Wilson's winning TD toss allowed him to bounce back from an interception on a badly thrown ball around the FSU 10 early in the fourth. The Seminoles converted that turnover into a field goal for a 24-21 lead with 9:07 left.
"His legs won the game," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It was two quarterbacks making plays, and they made one more than we did at the end."
Ponder threw for 196 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to Willie Haulstead to go with a pair of rushing scores -- all in the second quarter. He also had his own critical miscue, fumbling in a collapsing pocket deep in his own end of the field to set up Wilson's 20-yard score that tied the game in the third.
"We had it in hand," Ponder said. "We had been rolling and playing really well, and it was the first time in a while that we had control of our own destiny in the ACC."