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November 26, 2011

Rally for the ages

The NC State players and coaches insisted they never gave up hope.

NC State scored 42 unanswered points for an amazing 56-41 comeback victory over Maryland on Saturday for Senior Day at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The comeback is the second largest in ACC history between conference teams, and the Wolfpack clinched a bowl spot in the process. NC State improved to 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC, while Maryland fell to 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the league.

NC State redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon went 36 of 55 for 306 yards and five touchdowns passing, plus another rushing. Redshirt freshman running back Tony Creecy also sparked the offense with a combined 101 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

"I think we played hard the whole game, but it was mistakes that were bad for us in the beginning, but luckily we were able to come back," Glennon said. "We knew we had put ourselves in the hole, but we knew that we could get ourselves out.

"We were only stopping ourselves. When we executed, we just drove right down the field and scored."

Redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Manning helped spark the defense with two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and seven tackles.

"When it became a two possession game, we figured they had given up on themselves," Manning said. "We were ready to put the dagger in them and get the win."

The first half proved to be almost all Maryland. NC State was pressing and out of sorts during the first half against Maryland, making uncharacteristic mistakes resulting in three fumbles and one interception.

The Terrapins took two of the miscues and turned them into touchdowns — sophomore cornerback Dexter McDougle returned a fumble recovery for 66 yards for the first touchdown of the game, and freshman safety A.J. Hendy took an interception 32 yards for a score to give the Terrapins a 28-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

The start of the third quarter was also ominous for the Wolfpack. Senior running back Davin Meggett went 46 yards to give the Terrapins a 41-14 lead with 10:50 left in the third. The low point felt extremely low for NC State.

"It was unbelievable what was happening to us [being down 27], and I kept replaying it in my head with Maryland beating us again at the end of the year and blowing everything for us," Manning said.

NC State coach Tom O'Brien paraphrased something former Wolfpack player and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher once said.

"I'm reminded of Coach Cowher and when he talked to the team, and the same thing he says all the time, 'Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals character,'" O'Brien said.

The comeback needed a start. NC State couldn't make up points in one drive, so slowly but surely, they kept working and grinding, which is a synopsis of the Wolfpack season.

O'Brien knew when Meggett fumbled while getting tackled by Manning at the Maryland 26-yard line with 14:40 left in the game, his team would win. NCSU finally got a big break while down 41-28, and made the most of it. Once NC State got going, like a snowball downhill, the Pack picked up steam.

"The was probably the key play of the game when we got that fumble," O'Brien said. "From that point on, we were rolling."

NC State ended up fumbling three times on its first three possessions of the game. The offense redeemed itself by going 7 of 7 for touchdowns in the end zone, and 16 of 22 on third downs or fourth down.

"Our immaturity showed early," O'Brien said. "We tried too hard, we played too tight. We tried to avoid that all week.

"We had to grow up to come back and win this game."

NC State managed to win five out of the last seven games, overcome all kinds of injuries and inconsistency and reach a bowl game. O'Brien doesn't think many individuals outside of the Murphy Center thought it was possible.

"When this football team was 2-3, there wasn't a lot of people who believed we'd win five out of the next seven games, except for the people in this building," O'Brien said. "At that time, if you asked me, 'What do you do?' I would have said, 'You hitch up your britches, buckle your chinstrap and go to work and start grinding.' That is what we did. That is who we are at this stage."

The defy all odds through strong character came in handy when the Wolfpack were against the ropes, with some fans strolling out of the stadium.

"Wow, that second half, and all I can say is 'Wow,'" NC State redshirt junior strong safety Earl Wolff said. "We came back out in that second half, and when I say we fought, we fought. We told each other we got each other's back and you never know what can happen in football."

The NC State seniors will be playing in its third bowl game in the last four years. To achieve that goal in such memorable fashion made the win that much more special.

"I think it's a game that all of us will remember for a long time," Glennon said. "To come back in that fashion, when we knew we had to win to go to a bowl game, that's definitely, at least for me, something I'll remember for a long time."

The NC State players probably didn't recognize the team they were playing for the first 35 minutes.

Maryland created the first big play of the game when junior star defensive tackle Joe Vellano put the pressure on Glennon and got the sack and forced fumble, which was recovered by freshman defensive end Keith Bowers at the NCSU 29-yard line.

The Terrapins gave it right back on their first play. Senior wide receiver Tony Logan was inserted to play quarterback in Maryland's version of the Wildcat. Logan got stripped by Manning, and junior safety Brandan Bishop recovered the first of two fumbles in the game at the Wolfpack 24-yard line.

NC State appeared to be putting together a potential scoring drive, but junior running back James Washington fumbled after catching a pass, allowing Maryland sophomore cornerback Dexter McDougle to scoop it up and go 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Terrapins an early 7-0 lead with 8:25 left in the first quarter.

NC State fumbled for the third time in the first 7:14 of the game, this time by fifth-year senior wide receiver Jay Smith, who coughed it up at the Wolfpack 32-yard line. Maryland junior outside linebacker Darin Drakeford recovered it.

Meggett took a swing pass 13 yards to convert on third down and 10 to set up the next touchdown. Sophomore quarterback C.J. Brown went for six yards on the next play, and then plunged in from one-yard out to give Maryland a 14-0 lead with 5:52 left in the first quarter.

Glennon and the Wolfpack offense redeemed itself by creating their own momentum on fourth down and three at the 50-yard line. Glennon found fifth-year senior tight end George Bryan for five yards and a first down to keep the drive alive.

Glennon rolled right and found senior wide receiver T.J. Graham for 12 yards, and the Wolfpack got another 15 for sophomore defensive end Marcus Whitfield's roughing the passer penalty, giving NCSU the ball at the Maryland 19.

Glennon escaped pressure went 11 yards for a first down to the Maryland seven-yard line. The run eventually set up a four-yard touchdown toss to Creecy with four seconds remaining in a wild first quarter, cutting Maryland's lead to 14-7.

Maryland sophomore running back D.J. Adams ripped off a 33-yard run, but the NC State held strong early in the second quarter, and forced junior kicker Nick Ferrara into a 40-yard field goal. NC State fifth-year senior Markus Kuhn blocked the kick, and Manning picked up the loose ball and returned it to the Maryland 43-yard line.

Brown and the Maryland magic came up with a big 59-yard pass play to junior wide receiver Kevin Dorsey to the NCSU 5-yard line. Brown popped in from the one-yard line and Maryland took a 21-7 lead with 8:56 left in the second quarter.

Maryland's defense came through again, this time resulting in freshman safety A.J. Hendy picking off Glennon's pass, and going 33 yards for a touchdown to give the Terrapins a 28-7 lead with 8:11 left in the second quarter. Freshman kicker Michael Tart tacked on the extra point in replacing junior kicker/punter Nick Ferrara, who was injured on the previous kickoff.

Manning jump-started the Wolfpack defense by recovering a fumble at the Maryland 39-yard line. Brown botched the handoff with freshman running back Justus Pickett on the play for the Terrapins. Glennon connected on third and goal with Smith for a seven-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-14 with 3:28 left in the first half.

The Brown-to-Dorsey connection worked again, resulting in a 24-yard touchdown reception to stretch the Terrapins lead to 34-14 with 33 seconds left in the first half. Tart missed the ensuing extra point.

Maryland picked up where it left off in the third quarter. Meggett busted through the first level of NC State's defense, and was off to the races for a 46-yard touchdown run to give the Terrapins a commanding 41-14 lead with 10:50 left in the quarter.

NC State's hurry-up offense marched down the field behind Glennon. He eventually drilled a six-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Tobais Palmer to cut the Maryland land to 41-21 with 5:27 left in the third quarter.

The Wolfpack's momentum continued and led to a Glennon 11-yard touchdown pass to Creecy on the first play of the fourth quarter. NC State cut Maryland's once seemingly insurmountable lead to 41-28 with 14:56 left in the game.

Manning made another big play, which needed a little luck involved, after the ensuing kickoff. Meggett reached out to gain an extra yard while having his body on top of Manning's, so his knees never were on the ground when he lost control of the ball. Bishop recovered the football at the Maryland 26-yard line with about 14 1/2 minutes left in the game.

"I was just playing the play," Manning said. "When I see the ball, I call it, 'See ball, get ball.' That is all it is for me."

Glennon plunged in on a quarterback sneak from one-yard out to cut the Maryland lead to 41-35 with 13:24 remaining in the game.

NC State's defense came through with a potential game-changing interception when Brown took a shot downfield, only to throw it right to Wolff, who returned it 40 yards to the NCSU 48-yard line with 10:42 left in the game.

NC State's improbable comeback to get back in the game was capped by Washington's one-yard touchdown run to give the Wolfpack a 42-41 lead with 7:08 left in the contest.

"We were down a lot, but anything can happen in football," Wolff said. "I kept faith. It was a blessing for us to come back."

The final nail in Maryland's coffin came when senior cornerback Trenton Hughes was called for a 15-yard penalty for roughing Glennon with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the game. Washington took care of the business on the next two running plays, getting down to the Terrapins' six-yard line.

NC State appeared to score, but a penalty was called on the play. Glennon used some play-action on third down to get the defense moving one way, only to find Bryan all alone for a seven-yard touchdown reception to give the Wolfpack a 49-41 lead with 2:18 left in the game.

Maryland had one last gasp to tie the game, but that ended quickly. Redshirt junior cornerback C.J. Wilson picked off Brown and went 59 yards for a touchdown to give NC State a commanding 56-41 lead with 27 seconds left. Wilson was able to score his third touchdown off an interception in his Wolfpack career.


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