RALEIGH — Tom O'Brien has had bigger wins but probably none more important than the one N.C. State took from North Carolina on Saturday.
The 13-0 victory was of no particular significance in the ACC title race and certainly wasn't a work of art.
But with his team at 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the ACC late in his fifth season, a loss could have left O'Brien on shaky turf.
"We definitely wanted to win this one for our coach," said junior linebacker Terrell Manning. "We wanted it for us, but we wanted it for him, too. I think everyone in the program really needed a win today."
With games remaining against Boston College, Clemson and Maryland, the Wolfpack still isn't assured of landing a bowl berth. Having played lower level foes Liberty and South Alabama, NCSU needs seven wins to become bowl eligible.
A loss to the Tar Heels (6-4, 2-4) could have extinguished hope and fight in O'Brien's team.
On paper, UNC was the better team, too.
State was coming off an appalling performance in a 34-0 loss at Florida State while the Heels had played one of their best games yet under interim coach Everett Withers in a 49-24 win over Wake Forest.
In a season that had produced no real highlights other than perhaps a 28-14 win at Virginia, O'Brien was losing traction with many Wolfpack fans.
"This game we had to have, no question," said sophomore tackle Rob Crisp, whose blocking performance against UNC's defensive front was crucial to the Pack's 126-3 knockout in rushing yardage.
"The players, coaches, and everyone who pulls for State had to have this game."
Even with a fifth straight win over UNC, O'Brien's record with the Pack is a modest 30-29 and 16-21 in the conference.
Although the 2010 team went 9-4 and ended with an impressive bowl win over West Virginia, team leader Russell Wilson transferred to Wisconsin during the off-season.
Other than the four Philip Rivers years - 2000-03 - State fans haven't been able to consistently find hope, and O'Brien basically has followed the program's pattern in the years since Dick Sheridan retired after the '92 season.
With Rivers, the Pack went 34-17 overall and 17-15 in league play. But since Sheridan (52-29-3 overall, 31-18-1 ACC), State teams have gone 85-89 overall and 49-67 ACC excluding those Rivers seasons.
The win Saturday doesn't guarantee the Pack or O'Brien an easy ride ahead, but it pumped some much needed energy into the team and their fans.
"I'm already worried about Boston College. That's just the way I am. But that said, I'm certainly going to enjoy this one tonight, I promise you that," O'Brien said.
Normally quiet and unemotional, O'Brien got into a word war with Withers this week that made an immediate impression on his players.
"It showed us he has our back and has the university's back," N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon said. "He took it personal and added some fire for us. It was out character for him, so we really understood how much it meant to him."