Defense delivers in Wolfpack win
NC State faced a crucial road litmus test against Central Florida, and thanks to the defense they passed, albeit low on gas. The Pack carried a 28-7 lead into the fourth quarter than survived a fourth quarter Central Florida rally to emerge with a 28-21 triumph.
Redshirt junior linebacker Audie Cole led a defensive effort that forced five turnovers, one of which redshirt sophomore cornerback C.J. Wilson returned 43 yards for a third quarter touchdown. The key turnover though was sophomore safety Brandan Bishop forcing a fumble by UCF sophomore receiver Quincy McDuffie that was recovered by redshirt sophomore linebacker Terrell Manning at the NC State 10 with just 51 seconds left, securing the win.
The defense was able to pick up a sluggish offense. Redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson never found a rhythm, completing just 10 of 30 passes for 105 yards and a 26-yard touchdown to fifth-year senior receiver Darrell Davis.
Central Florida, led by reserve freshman quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey, scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to cut State's lead to 28-21 with 4:29 left. The Knights started their final drive at the NC State after a 14-yard punt from fifth-year senior Jeff Ruiz with 2:47 on the clock and one timeout.
The game started promisingly for NC State. Fifth-year senior kicker Josh Czajkowski started the contest with his first career touchback on the kickoff, and the Pack was able to force an UCF punt on the Knights opening drive.
The Pack missed a golden opportunity on their first drive when redshirt junior quarterback Wilson overthrew a wide open senior receiver Owen Spencer on what would have likely been an 86-yard touchdown bomb. Instead, State's drive stalled at the NC State 27, forcing a fifth-year senior Jeff Ruiz punt. The Wilson incompletion would be a sign of what was to come for the Pack's star quarterback
The Pack made the first big play of the game when redshirt sophomore Earl Wolff recorded his first career interception at the NC State 28 and returned it 31 yards to the Central Florida 42. State then used its ground attack to reach the end zone and take a 7-0 lead. Freshman Mustafa Greene ran twice for 15 yards and redshirt freshman Dean Haynes carried twice for 18 yards, including a four-yard score to cap off an eight-play drive with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
State kept the momentum going by forcing a three-and-out on Central Florida's ensuing possession. The Pack then marched down the field on an 11-play, 83-yard drive over 5:50, capped off by a Wilson to Davis 26-yard touchdown pass, giving State a 14-0 edge with 9:39 left before halftime. Wilson was 4 of 4 for 47 yards on the drive, the lone time during the game he was sharp.
The Pack got a break with 4:52 when UCF redshirt sophomore running back Latavius Murray had a Ruiz punt bounce off his leg. NC State senior long snapper Corey Tedder recovered at the Central Florida 20. On third and 11, Greene busted loose through a large hole on the right side for a 21-yard touchdown, giving State a 21-0 lead with 3:26 left in the half.
Central Florida finally got on the board on the next kickoff. McDuffie returned the kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, cutting State's lead to 21-7 with 3:12 left before halftime.
A quick three and out by NC State allowed Central Florida one more opportunity before halftime, but their drive stalled at the NC State 29, and junior Nick Cattoi's 46-yard field was wide right. The Pack went into halftime with a 21-7 advantage.
NC State's defense forced its third turnover of the game when Cole came across the field to pick off a Nico Flores double reverse halfback pass with 7:29 left in the third quarter at midfield. State was unable however to take advantage and forced to punt when their drive stalled at the UCF 37.
The defense then took it upon themselves to take advantage of their next turnover and essentially put the game out of reach. Wilson intercepted UCF junior quarterback Rob Calabrese's overthrow and returned it 43 yards down the NC State sideline for a touchdown with 5:22 left in the third quarter, giving State a 28-7 lead.
The Knights made a quarterback change that paid off with a methodical 55-yard drive for a touchdown. Godfrey completed both of his passes on the drive and ran for a 6-yard touchdown, capping a 12-play march to the end zone that last 5:58. Ten of the 12 plays were rushes, including three by Godfrey for 20 yards. The score cut State's lead to 28-14 with 14:19 left in the game.
Godfrey would then lead an 8-play, 75-yard drive capped by his 1-yard run around the right side with 4:29 left.