ORLANDO - Senior place-kicker Josh Czajkowski had a memorable finish to a productive career.
N.C. State’s defense bounced back from some late-season struggles against the pass. And the Wolfpack delivered the first bowl win in coach Tom O’Brien’s four seasons in a 23-7 defeat of No. 22 West Virginia on Tuesday night in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Czajkowski made three of four field goal attempts, scoring from 45, 38 and 40 yards to break open a game that was tied 7-7 in the final minute of the first half in front of a crowd of 48,962 at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. The kicks tied him for the school season record of 20 field goals, which was set by Marc Primanti in 1996.
N.C. State’s defense, meanwhile, delivered one of its most dominating performances of the season. The Wolfpack had given up more than 400 passing yards to North Carolina and Maryland in its final two games, but did a better job limiting West Virginia’s yards after the catch as the Mountaineers committed five turnovers.
The win capped off a memorable season for N.C. State (9-4), which matched the second-highest total in school history. It was the Wolfpack’s first bowl win over a ranked team since a 2002 defeat of No. 17 Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl.
In what might have been his last game at N.C. State, junior quarterback Russell Wilson passed for 275 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 41 yards, but Czajkowski handled a lot of the scoring. Wilson, who’s planning to play baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization for the second straight summer, hasn’t said whether he’s returning to N.C. State for next season.
He consistently moved the ball with his feet and arm and erased the unpleasant memories of the 2008 Papajohns.com Bowl, when his knee injury kept him out of the second half of a loss to Rutgers. Wilson was named the game’s most valuable player after hitting 28 of his 45 passes.
Although Wilson and Czajkowski made a lot of big plays, N.C. State’s defense may have been the most significant factor in the game.
Defensive end Audi Augustin’s third-down sack on West Virginia’s first drive set the tone as the Mountaineers didn’t score for the first 27 minutes.
N.C. State had more success moving the ball early, opening the scoring on a 16-yard Wilson pass to running back Mustafa Greene with 1:37 remaining in the first quarter.
Wilson was coolly effective on the drive, going 7-for-9 for 79 yards. On N.C. State’s next drive, he scrambled for 18 yards to the West Virginia 22-yard line. But just when it appeared the Wolfpack was ready to open up a double-digit lead, the drive stalled.
After Wilson threw too high for Jarvis Williams on third down, N.C. State tried a trick play after setting up for what appeared to be a 36-yard field goal attempt. Holder Corey Tedder attempted to flip the ball blindly over his shoulder to Czajkowski.
It was a similar play to the one O’Brien used with kicker Ryan Ohliger for a 21-yard touchdown run in a 37-24 Boston College defeat of North Carolina in the 2004 Continental Tire Bowl.
This time, though, the play was botched. Tedder’s flip fell short of the mark, and N.C. State led just 7-0 in a game it had dominated early.
West Virginia (9-4) failed to connect on its first legitimate scoring opportunity when Tyler Bitancurt’s 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. But the Mountaineers finally scored when Stedman Bailey outfought cornerback David Amerson for a 32-yard touchdown catch with 2:10 remaining in the half.
T.J. Graham’s 46-yard kickoff return quickly lifted N.C. State’s spirits, though, setting up a 45-yard Czajkowski field goal that put the Wolfpack ahead 10-7 at halftime.
N.C. State took advantage of the game’s first turnover early in the second quarter when David Akinniyi recovered a fumble by quarterback Geno Smith at the West Virginia 26-yard line. Czajkowski added a 38-yard field goal for a 13-7 lead, and the Wolfpack defense came up with a big stop after a 60-yard kickoff return gave West Virginia the ball at the 34.
Brian Slay made a tackle on a screen pass for a 4-yard loss, and the Mountaineers completed a pass out of bounds on fourth-and-10 to turn it over on downs. With the help of a 15-yard facemask penalty, Czajkowski delivered his third field goal, a 40-yarder, as N.C. State stretched its lead to 16-7 late in the third quarter.
Czajkowski missed a 27-yard attempt later, but N.C. State turned a muffed punt by West Virginia into a 7-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Williams. In his final game, in his hometown, Williams raced through a crowd after a wild Wilson scramble for the reception and clinching score.