RALEIGH — There are two versions of the N.C. State football team, coach Tom O'Brien admitted Saturday, the "good" one and the "bad" one.
Both versions appeared during an uneven 2011 season so it was fitting that both showed up for Saturday's regular-season finale against Maryland. There was the one that fell behind by 27 points in the second half and the one that pulled off the biggest comeback in school history for a wild 56-41 win at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Actually, junior linebacker Terrell Manning argued, there's a third version of the Wolfpack (7-5), which clinched its third bowl game in four years with the remarkable comeback.
"The great one," Manning. "You have to be to score 42 straight points."
That's what N.C. State did. Quarterback Mike Glennon threw for five touchdowns, and ran for another, in leading the Wolfpack back from a 41-14 hole. The defensive pressure, which dominated Clemson and North Carolina earlier this month on the same field, led to three turnovers and 42 straight points to save the season and set up a bowl trip. Charlotte, for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27, is the likely postseason destination for the Wolfpack, which started 2-3, although the Sun Bowl and Music City Bowl are also possibilities.
"When this football team was 2-3, there weren't a lot of people that believed we could five of the next seven games," O'Brien said.
He added that a lot of people had the same thoughts in third quarter of Saturday's game, especially against Maryland, which finished the season 2-10.
A bitter loss to Maryland had been an all too familiar ending for the Wolfpack. Maryland had won four of five from the Wolfpack and 8 of 11 going back to Philip Rivers' freshman season, vexing the Wolfpack in late-season matchups. Last season, with the division title on the line for the Wolfpack, Maryland won at home 38-31. In '07, a 37-0 shutout kept O'Brien's first team out of a bowl game.
That history entered the minds of the State players when it trailed 41-14 at 10:50 in the third quarter.
"I was thinking, Maryland's going to get us again," said Manning, who forced two fumbles and recovered a third. "And ruin everything. Again."
The comeback, which was exceeded only by a 24-pointer by the 2000 team in MicronPC bowl against Minnesota, started with a trickle but ended in an avalanche. Glennon hit Tobais Palmer on a 6-yard touchdown pass at 5:57 in the third quarter to make it 41-21.A key fumble on Maryland's next possession, by Davin Meggett at Maryland's 26, is when O'Brien started to think the win was possible.
"From that point on, we were rolling," O'Brien said.
Running back Tony Creecy started a 35-point fourth quarter with an 11-yard touchdown catch from Glennon at 14:56. After an Earl Wolff interception at State's own 8 yard line, Glennon capped a scoring drive with 1-yard touchdown run. James Washington followed with a 1-yard touchdown run of his own put State ahead for good, 42-41 with 7:08 left.
State's defense forced a punt and George Bryan's 7-yard touchdown catch at 2:18 made it 49-41 and cornerback C.J. Wilson returned a Brown interception 59 yards for an insurance touchdown.
"It was easy," Manning joked.
Saturday's game began in utter disaster with three fumbles in a 3-minute, 59-second span which led to Maryland's first 14 points, including a 66-yard fumble return by cornerback Dexter McDougle.
Maryland's defense added a interception return for touchdown by safety A.J. Hendy to go up 28-7 at 8:11 in the second quarter and Kevin Dorsey tacked on a 24-yard touchdown catch to make it 34-14 at the half.
Which prompted O'Brien to tell his team at the half: "The bad team, the first half is over. Let's get the good guys back out there and play the second half."
Good, bad and in between, it all added up to a crazy game and a memorable bowl-clinching win for the Wolfpack.
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