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October 22, 2011

David Amerson's pick-six sparks NC State win

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - NC State picked off Virginia freshman quarterback David Watford three times, with the last one a game-clincher.

NC State sophomore cornerback David Amerson returned his second pick of the day for a 12-yard touchdown in the Wolfpack's 28-14 victory Saturday. Amerson entered the game leading the nation in interceptions in his breakout season, and is tied for the most picks in a season in NC State history.

"I saw him run the route and I drove the route, but thought he was going to catch it," Amerson said. "I was going to rip it out, but he [Virginia wide receiver Darius Jennings] dropped the ball and it was up in the air. I just snagged it and tried to get into the end zone. In my head, as soon as I caught it, I said I was going to dive in there. I knew it would be tough to get in there and it worked."

NC State improved to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the ACC, and play at 12 p.m. next Saturday at Florida State. Virginia fell to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the league.

"I'm really happy for our kids," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said. "It has been a struggle, but here we are heading into the second half, to head in with such a big win here and do it the way we did is great."

Amerson's sticky fingers were complemented by the breakout game from redshirt freshman wide receiver Bryan Underwood, who caught a pair of touchdowns. Underwood caught a 33-yard score from redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon in the second quarter and then added a huge 79-yard touchdown late in the third.

"My number was called today," Underwood said. "My hard work paid off. Everyone was on me in the pre-game and last night and said it was my time to shine.

"I was shocked that I did [stayed in bounds on the second score], but I just continued to run. This is a dream come true."

NC State's offense suffered with some big drops early, and didn't have senior standout wide receiver T.J. Graham in the first half because of a suspension, and redshirt junior wide receiver Tobais Palmer, who is Graham's backup, suffered a concussion after hitting fellow wide receiver Jay Smith during pregame warmups. The Wolfpack also played without injured sophomore outside linebacker D.J. Green, who was questionable going into the game with an abdomen injury, but fifth-year senior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy gutted through his foot injury.

"Tobais was out there messing around and ran into Jay Smith and gets a head injury," O'Brien said. "You can't make this stuff up. T.J. was disciplined.

"Bryan Underwood certainly stepped up. The first touchdown, we felt good to get in that situation where he could run by No. 1, which he did. The second one was just a great individual play on his part."

NC State had three big early drops, but still had the chance to crack the scoreboard. UVa star cornerback Chase Minnifield dashed those hopes by blocking the 41-yard field goal attempt of NC State freshman kicker Niklas Sade with 3:07 left in the first quarter.

Dropping passes became a game-long problem for the Wolfpack, but the forced turnovers and a few big plays made up for it.

Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco used his feet to pick up a big third down to reach the NC State 14-yard line, and then scrambled to buy time and found running back Clifton Richardson for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 10:37 left in the first quarter to give UVa a 7-0 lead.

NC State answered with a drive of its own led by running backs James Washington and Tony Creecy. The latter caught a five-yard touchdown pass with 5:20 left in the second quarter to tie the game 7-7.

Creecy, who played wide receiver at Southern Durham High, ended up leading the Wolfpack with seven catches for 42 yards and the score.

"We think our backs are good pass catchers, and any time we can get them on a middle linebacker, we got a chance for them to make something happen," O'Brien said.

Amerson came up with his seventh interception of the season against UVa reserve quarterback Watford at the Cavaliers 33-yard line.

Glennon quickly took advantage with a 33-yard touchdown strike to Underwood to give the Wolfpack a 14-7 lead with 4:27 left in the second quarter. Underwood's grab made up for his earlier drop.

The offenses for both teams were playing smash mouth football for much of the third quarter, but then Glennon found Underwood again and third down and 10, and he slipped through the tackle of UVa defensive back Dom Joseph and sprinted 79 yards down the right sideline to give the Wolfpack a 21-7 lead with 2:26 left in the third quarter.

"We threw a little 10-yard out and he took it to the house," said Glennon, who finished going 20 of 36 passing for 231 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. "His speed is definitely physically the best thing he has.

"Other than the interceptions, which I got to take care of those, but I felt comfortable out there."

The NC State 14-point only lasted a few seconds, actually six to be exact. Watford threw a bomb to wide receiver Tim Smith, who out-leaped NCSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Rashard Smith for a 60-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14 with 2:19 left in the third quarter.

"Those two plays were a lot of yards," O'Brien said.

Virginia opened the fourth quarter with a Corey Mosley interception of Glennon on third down to take over in Pack territory. However, the NC State defense held and forced a fourth-and-three, which the Cavaliers could not convert on.

Amerson put the game away by intercepting Watford's pass that went off the hands of Jennings, and he returned it 12 yards for a touchdown. The Wolfpack extended their lead to 28-14 with 6:08 left in the game.

"He continues to get better and better," O'Brien said.

Glennon, who had 15-to-20 friends and family in attendance was thrilled to see Amerson get a touchdown.

"This kid is the real deal," Glennon said. "David is a great player. Once he had that, I knew the game was over. The defense had a really great game, specifically the second half."

On the ensuing Virginia possession, Watford's pass tipped off of his receiver's hands and Brandan Bishop snared the Pack's third interception of the contest.

"Our job offensively is to find that thing that we can get going and be consistent in that," Virginia coach Mike London said. "I thought that going into this, we had a pretty good week of practice, but obviously not enough to be effective, to keep the defense off the field and to score points.

Virginia managed a season-low 124 rushing yards on 33 carries, and went 11 of 35 passing for 135.

"It wasn't a good enough effort from the quarterbacks in terms of throwing the ball, completing passes, from catching the ball, from the ball bouncing off hands and different things like that," London said.

O'Brien hopes his maligned defense is starting to turn the corner for the stretch drive.

"We put together six good quarters of defense, so we have to keep that going," O'Brien said. "We stayed in our gaps. They weren't going to run to the boundary on us like last week [vs. Georgia Tech].

"Obviously, we have some things to work on but the pains aren't as great right now and I'm happy to go home and get ready to play Florida State next week."


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