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 Thursday night. Instead, the contact in the backfield dislodged the ball.
N.C. State senior 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.
The division winner will play in the ACC championship game Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
"Even though we're young, we can still fight and hang with some of the good teams in the Atlantic [Coast] Conference," Irving said proudly.
Russell Wilson ran for 69 yards and 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 Atlantic Division.
"We played a very significant game against the leader on our side [of the conference]," O'Brien said. ". . .We have to do it again. ... We have three of the next four on the road. We don't have an easy road."
After Wilson scored on a 1-yard run on N.C. State's opening drive, Ponder 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.
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.
"We noticed in the second half that we needed to run the ball," Greene said.
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. Florida State bounced back and drove 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, O'Brien sent the field goal team on the field.
The fans booed. O'Brien called a timeout to reconsider, then sent the offense on the field. With Florida State expecting a quarterback sneak, Wilson rolled right and hit wide-open tight end George Bryan in the end zone. 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 after they advanced to the 4-yard line in the final minute. But then Jones and Ponder bumped.
"I just extended the ball too far," Ponder said. "I was trying to keep my eyes downfield, and I just hit the tailback. I fumbled it. It was my fault."
Irving dived on the loose ball. At the bottom of the pile, Irving and teammate Sweezy shouted at each other.
They said there was no way they were going to let anybody take the ball from them.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Bryan said of his winning touchdown.
And it sets up N.C. State, beginning with a Nov. 6 game at Clemson, to be a big factor in the race for the Atlantic Division title.
Staff writer Luke DeCock contributed to this report.
N.C. State 28, No. 16 Florida St. 24
NCSt--R.Wilson 1 run (Czajkowski kick), 7:55.
FSU--Ponder 3 run (Hopkins kick), 7:12. FSU--Ponder 2 run (Hopkins kick), 4:54. FSU--Haulstead 11 pass from Ponder (Hopkins kick), :47.
NCSt--R.Wilson 10 run (Czajkowski kick), 10:00. NCSt--R.Wilson 20 run (Czajkowski kick), 7:36.
FSU--FG Hopkins 31, 9:07. NCSt--Bryan 1 pass from R.Wilson (Czajkowski kick), 2:40.
Time of Possession
Rushing--Florida St., T.Jones 10-108, Thompson 6-39, Ponder 11-21, Thomas 4-16, Pryor 1-(minus 1), A.Alexander 1-(minus 6). N.C. State, Greene 17-76, R.Wilson 17-69, Washington 8-23, Haynes 8-22, Team 3-(minus 1).
Passing--Florida St., Ponder 17-28-0-196. N.C. State, R.Wilson 18-28-1-178.
Receiving--Florida St., Reed 6-87, Haulstead 4-43, Thomas 2-14, Pryor 2-13, Easterling 1-29, Reliford 1-5, R.Smith 1-5. N.C. State, Williams 3-44, Washington 3-22, Davis 2-44, Greene 2-15, Bryan 2-10, Howard 2-9, Spencer 2-5, Watson 1-22, Payton 1-7.
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