Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder (7) fumbles the ball with 48.3 seconds remaining, N.C. State's Nate Irving (56) recovered the ball to preserve the Wolfpack win. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com
RALEIGH - Just when N.C. State’s hopes for a dramatic win seemed squashed, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder unexpectedly brushed up against running back Ty Jones in the backfield.
It appeared that Ponder had a chance to throw for the winning touchdown on a tackle eligible play Thursday night. Instead, the contact in the backfield dislodged the ball.
N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving recovered the fumble at the Wolfpack 9-yard line with 48.3 seconds remaining. And N.C. State finished off its biggest win in years, a 28-24 decision over Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium that put the Wolfpack squarely in the race for the ACC Atlantic Division championship.
Russell Wilson ran for three touchdowns and threw for another, and Mustafa Greene rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries as N.C. State bounced back from a 21-7 halftime deficit to win.
N.C. State (6-2, 3-1 ACC) set the stage for an interesting finish to the season, becoming bowl eligible and handing Florida State (6-2, 4-1) its first conference loss. The Wolfpack, Florida State and Maryland (5-2, 2-1) share the lead in the loss column in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
N.C. State started strong with a tackle for loss by Irving on third down to snuff out Florida State’s opening possession followed by a 51-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard Wilson touchdown run.
Ponder, who had suffered a ruptured bursa sac in his right elbow 12 days earlier at Boston College, took control in the second quarter. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the quarter as Florida State outgained the Wolfpack 167 yards to 14.
Just when it appeared Florida State and first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher were about to finish off N.C. State, though, the Wolfpack had a chance to regroup at halftime. In the third quarter, N.C. State got back to establishing the run and a short passing attack that was successful on the opening drive of the game.
With Florida State’s safeties playing back in zone coverage, N.C. State leaned on freshman running back Greene, strung together short gains and marched the ball down the field.
Wilson scrambled for 10 yards and a touchdown, then quickly got another opportunity when Natanu Mageo forced a Ponder fumble that J.R. Sweezy recovered. On a third-and-8 quarterback draw, Wilson found himself alone in the middle of the field and crashed into the end zone on a 20-yard run, tying the score at 21-21.
N.C. State was in position for a go-ahead score when Wilson made an ill-advised pass, throwing right to cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who intercepted at the Florida State 5-yard line.
On third-and-20 from the Florida State 10, wide receiver Bert Reed made another huge play for the Seminoles when he caught a short pass and cut all the way across the field for a 30-yard gain. The play helped Florida State drive for a 30-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal and a 24-21 lead with 9:07 remaining.
But Wilson made a better throw in the face of a blitz on fourth-and-4 from Florida State’s 36-yard line, hitting Darrell Davis for a 35 yard gain. After three runs from the Seminoles’ 1-yard line didn’t gain a yard, coach Tom O’Brien sent the field goal team on the field.
The fans booed. O’Brien called timeout to reconsider, then sent the offense on the field. Wilson rolled right and hit a wide-open George Bryan in the end zone, and the crowd erupted as N.C. State went ahead 28-24.
Florida State still had 2 minutes and 40 seconds to rush down the field for a winning touchdown. It appeared the Seminoles would do so, but then Jones and Ponder bumped, and Irving dived on the loose ball.