ORLANDO, Fla. — If Russell Wilson wanted to go out on a high note, his pitch was near perfect Tuesday night in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Against three-point favorite West Virginia, the N.C. State quarterback had one of his most impressive performances in an already extraordinary football career.
Playing on the same Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium turf where Philip Rivers ended his four-year N.C. State career on Dec. 22, 2003, in a 56-26 bowl rout of Kansas, Wilson directed a 23-7 victory that may serve as his football so-long show.
A redshirt junior, Wilson soon will make the decision either to return for another season with the Wolfpack or devote his energy to a professional baseball career with the Colorado Rockies.
Odds have pointed to the latter, ever since Wilson signed a baseball contract in midsummer and spent approximately a month in the minor leagues.
Even as he waved to a lingering crowd of Wolfpack fans during the postgame awards ceremony, Wilson remained noncommittal about his intentions.
"I just can't say when I'll make a decision," Wilson said. "It's something I need to think about. This is not about me tonight, and it shouldn't be. This night is about N.C. State, all about N.C. State."
NCSU football coach Tom O'Brien said he and Wilson would discuss the situation and reach a decision during the next week or so.
As Wilson headed to locker room with the game's most valuable player award in tow, fans chanted "One more year! One more year!" time after time.
"He's just a great player, a heck of a player," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "He's just a neat guy. I'm sure he'll have a great career in baseball, too."
If Wilson does leave, Wolfpack fans can only salute his impact and memory. He'll be recalled not only as one of the school's all-time best players but as a regular godsend for O'Brien and the stability of the program.
Until Wilson began to emerge as a force midway through the 2008 season, there was some sense of desperation among Wolfpack fans.
With the exit of once-popular former coach Chuck Amato and long past Rivers' glory run, N.C. State fans wondered when - or if - another dynamic leader would surface.
For all of the sophisticated recruiting conducted by college teams, most quarterbacks don't pan out to be big winners, much less record setters.
Wilson wasn't heavily recruited, but he certainly did a ton of heavy lifting.
He entered Tuesday's game, his 37th, with 8,270 yards passing and 74 touchdown throws.
Although the Pack's receivers dropped far too many passes Tuesday, Wilson hit running back Mustafa Greene for an early touchdown and frequently kept drives alive with hot-route passes and elusive scrambles.
Wilson then punctuated his performance with an improbable 7-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jarvis Williams, an Orlando native, with 3:55 left.
In the game MVP voting, Wilson won going away after finishing with 275 yards passing, 41 rushing and two touchdown passes.
Rivers, on an 8-5 overall (4-4 ACC) team in 2003, left with more staggering stats. He passed for 475 yards and five TDs in his bowl finale, ending his days at N.C. State with 95 TD passes and 13,582 yards in 51 games.
But if Wilson should re-up for another football tour, he should rival Rivers' numbers and possibly make the Wolfpack (9-4, 5-3 ACC) next season's preseason Atlantic Division favorite.
If he goes, the offense will be turned over to inexperienced understudy Mike Glennon, and the 2011 schedule will start amid much mystery.
But the 2010 Wolfpack season was about a lot more than Wilson. Picked before the season to be one of the ACC's weakest teams, State came within a few plays of winning really big. All four losses were close. One was in overtime at ECU, and another was by one point at Clemson.
It ended amid near-record cold and with 48,962 fans on hand against a West Virginia team that was ranked 22nd and featured one of the country's top defenses.
The Wolfpack defense, led by linebacker Nate Irving in his last college game, was better throughout.
But the game-changer was No. 16, a uniform number the Wolfpack isn't likely to issue to anyone else for a while.
Wilson's number may not get retired - a la Rivers' 17 or Roman Gabriel's 18 - but Wilson won't soon be forgotten. Nor should he.
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