RALEIGH — Tom O'Brien sure knows how to ruin a celebration.
N.C. State had just rallied from a 14-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Pittsburgh 38-31 on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium when O'Brien delivered his message of gloom in the locker room.
O'Brien, the third-year coach, said the Wolfpack is a bad football team. He said he has done a bad job coaching the team. He told reporters that with ACC play beginning for N.C. State on Oct. 3 at Wake Forest, his team has to get better.
Despite sending fans of the home team in the sold-out crowd of 57,583 home happy on an otherwise dank and dreary evening, N.C. State's players took O'Brien's message to heart.
"We didn't always do our best," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "We had a lot of penalties on offense, which, that can't happen anymore."
N.C. State showed character and resilience by scoring the final 21 points after trailing 31-17 following Jonathan Baldwin's 79-yard touchdown catch from Bill Stull with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.
A magnificent performance by Wilson helped the Wolfpack (3-1) defeat a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for the first time this season. Wilson was 21-for-35 passing for 322 yards with four touchdowns.
He scrambled for a career-high 91 rushing yards on 10 carries, including a 21-yard run on fourth-and-14 from the Pittsburgh 28 early in the fourth quarter. That set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to George Bryan that tied the score.
N.C. State took the lead on a 2-yard Toney Baker run over the left tackle with 6:28 remaining. The Wolfpack's defense made the late surge possible by holding Pittsburgh to 11 yards over the final 19 minutes.
"Deep down we know we're a better team than we were performing in the first half," N.C. State defensive end Willie Young said.
The Wolfpack's worst mistake gave Pittsburgh (3-1) one more chance to tie. With Wilson lined up in the shotgun, center Ted Larsen snapped the ball high over his head.
Linebacker Max Gruder fell on the ball at the N.C. State 8-yard line with 2:45 remaining. The Wolfpack already had survived 12 penalties, two missed field goal attempts and numerous missed first-half coverages and tackles on defense.
N.C. State would survive this, too. Freshman safety Brandan Bishop dislodged the ball from tight end Dorin Dickerson's hand on third down, and Stull threw high out of the end zone on fourth down as Pittsburgh came up empty.
"Whether you're a freshman or a senior, if you truly believe we're going to go out there and win every day, we will win," Bishop said.
The numbers for this game should encourage N.C. State. Pittsburgh is one of the favorites to win the Big East and overpowered the Wolfpack early with a physical offensive line that paved the way for 95 yards on 19 carries by freshman Dion Lewis.
But N.C. State posted its best total offense mark (530 yards) since a game against North Carolina in 2004, and held the Panthers to 300 yards. The Wolfpack rushed for 208 yards as backs Toney Baker (81 yards) and Jamelle Eugene (59) rotated and stayed fresh.
After staying in the pocket for most of the first three games, Wilson showed off the speed that made him the ACC's most feared dual-threat quarterback last season.
"We didn't see him scramble like this at all this year," said Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt. "He made things happen on his own. He's a leader and a winner."
Most of all, N.C. State showed heart by coming back from a double-digit deficit. O'Brien said the Wolfpack has a chance to be a good football team because of how hard it competed for the entire game.
But N.C. State's discipline didn't match its effort, and that was unacceptable to the veteran of the Marines and U.S. Naval Academy graduate who wears the headset on the sideline.
"We're just not a very good football team right now," O'Brien said. "There's too many mistakes, and I've done a bad job coaching them. Anytime you have 12 penalties, and most of them are before the snap, that's just a bad job."
N.C. State 38, Pittsburgh 31
Pitt--Lewis 6 run (Hutchins kick), 13:02. Pitt--FG Hutchins 35, 9:08. NCSt--T.Gentry 23 pass from R.Wilson (Czajkowski kick), 2:39.
Pitt--Lewis 7 run (Hutchins kick), 12:11. NCSt--FG Czajkowski 25, :00.
NCSt--Baker 38 pass from R.Wilson (Czajkowski kick), 12:36. Pitt--Saddler 13 pass from Stull (Hutchins kick), 10:03. Pitt--Baldwin 79 pass from Stull (Hutchins kick), 4:15. NCSt--Ja.Williams 33 pass from R.Wilson (Czajkowski kick), 2:44.
NCSt--Bryan 7 pass from R.Wilson (Czajkowski kick), 12:26. NCSt--Baker 2 run (Czajkowski kick), 6:28.
Time of Possession
RUSHING--Pittsburgh, Lewis 19-95, Graham 2-6, Saddler 1-1, Stull 1-(minus 8). N.C. State, R.Wilson 10-91, Baker 18-81, Eugene 16-59, Team 2-(minus 23).
PASSING--Pittsburgh, Stull 12-23-0-206. N.C. State, R.Wilson 21-35-0-322.
RECEIVING--Pittsburgh, Dickerson 4-52, Baldwin 2-98, Saddler 2-17, Turner 1-26, Lewis 1-6, McGee 1-4, Byham 1-3. N.C. State, Davis 4-47, Bryan 4-28, Baker 3-71, Graham 3-63, Eugene 3-27, Ja.Williams 2-37, Howard 1-26, T.Gentry 1-23.
Att.--57,583 (at N.C.State).
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