CHARLOTTE — It was a signature moment for N.C. State, a microcosm of the Wolfpack's up-and-down season.
N.C. State's rally from 27 points down to earn a 56-41 victory over Maryland in both teams' regular-season finale Nov. 26 left the Wolfpack (7-5) riding an incredible high and extended its season.
N.C. State players would love to cap their season with another victory, this time against Louisville (7-5) in tonight's Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium.
They prefer, however, to do it without any more late-game dramatics.
"We had to win our last two games to get here, so the excitement has kind of built up and we're finally here," said senior defensive tackle, J.R. Sweezy, a former standout at Mooresville High.
"We can't start off the game like we did with Maryland. If we start off like that, we're going to be in big trouble."
Sweezy said several of the more experienced Wolfpack players have tried to remind the younger players of that during this week's bowl preparations.
"It showed confidence that we could come back in a situation like that and that we never give up," Sweezy said. "But if we start off like that against Louisville, I don't think it will turn out as well."
Wolfpack junior quarterback Mike Glennon agrees.
"We don't ever need to be in the situation of being down 27 points with 10 minutes left in the third quarter," he said. "We know we have the ability to come back, but you can't count on that."
It was not just a stunning comeback that catapulted the Wolfpack into the postseason.
N.C. State closed the regular season winning five of its final seven games, including an improbable lopsided victory against Bowl Championship Series bowl-bound Clemson.
"It's rewarding as a coach to be around kids who never give up, who hang in there and keep playing hard no matter what the score is," said coach Tom O'Brien, whose Wolfpack teams have played in bowls in three of his five seasons.
"I hope the finish to this season is a building block toward next season. What you don't want to happen is to have kids who are just happy to be here.
"Bowl games are won by teams that are hungry."
Louisville certainly fits that description as well.
The Cardinals earned a share of the Big East title while closing the regular season with five wins in their final six games.
Coach Charlie Strong has led the Cardinals to bowl appearances in his two seasons.
"We have a real chance to put a stamp on this program," he said. "So much was said before the season about how young we were and what we could do down the road.
"Instead, we made it to a bowl game and got a piece of the (league) championship."
Strong sees a similar story with the Cardinals' opponent.
"N.C. State is a team with a lot of talent that came together late in the season, much like we did," he said. "They have a defense that creates a lot of pressure and offensively they can keep you off balance.
"We have our hands full."