ORLANDO, Fla. — NC State entered the Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday night one of just three ACC teams playing a ranked opponent in its bowl game. Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien believed that a win over No. 22 West Virginia should be enough to propel the Wolfpack into the final top 25. He will soon find out. The Wolfpack prevailed 23-7 while controlling the action for much of the game against West Virginia.
NC State accomplished their mission and got their ninth win of the season, giving O'Brien his 100th victory as a head coach in the process.
The game started promisingly for the Pack. On their second possession of the game, NC State rode the right arm of redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson for a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 16-yard pass to freshman running back Mustafa Greene out of the backfield with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
Wilson accounted for all 86 yards on the drive, completing 8 of 9 passes for 79 yards and scrambling once for seven more yards.
The Pack forced a three and out on West Virginia's next possession, and then State appeared poised to add to its lead when they committed their first significant blunder of the game.
Fifth-year senior kicker Josh Czajkowski lined up for a 36-yard field goal attempt on fourth and seven, but instead State called for a fake punt. Holder Corey Tedder was to flick the ball to Czajkowski around the right side, but Tedder's flip was off the mark and Czajkowski could not pick the football up off the ground. West Virginia recovered at its own 32 with 10:46 left in the first half.
WVU could not convert the botched fake field goal into points however. Their ensuing drive stalled at the NC State 26, and redshirt sophomore kicker Tyler Bitancurt's 43-yard field goal was slightly wide right with 8:10 left in the half.
After forcing a three and out by NC State, West Virginia got on the board when sophomore quarterback Geno Smith connected with redshirt freshman receiver Stedman Bailey for a 32-yard touchdown pass over NC State freshman cornerback David Amerson with 2:10 left in the first half. West Virginia had third down conversions on third and nine and then eight earlier in the drive to set up the touchdown.
NC State answered on the next possession. Junior receiver T.J. Graham returned the WVU kickoff 46 yards to the West Virginia 48, setting up Czajkowski's 45-yard field goal to give State a 10-7 lead with 26 seconds left before halftime that NCSU carried into the locker rooms.
NC State got the first great opportunity in the second half when Smith and West Virginia senior running back Noel Devine mishandled a handoff and NC State fifth-year senior defensive end David Akinniyi jumped on the fumble at the West Virginia 26.
Facing fourth and one at the WVU 17, Tom O'Brien elected to go for it, but sophomore center Camden Wentz was flagged for a false start, pushing State back five yards. The Pack was forced to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Czajkowski, upping the lead to 13-7 with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
WVU senior receiver Jock Sanders returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the NC State 34, but the Pack's defense held their ground, forcing an incomplete pass on fourth and 10.
The Pack converted the defensive stand into another Czajkowski field goal, this time a 40-yarder with 1:50 left in the third quarter to give State a 16-7 lead. Czajkowski's third field goal of the game gave him 20 for the season, tying former Pack kicker Marc Primanti's school record.
The big-play ability of Devine nearly struck for West Virginia, but as he broke loose a long 36-yard run he fumbled at the West Virginia 44 and it was recovered by NC State fifth-year senior linebacker Nate Irving.
Czajkowski's short 27-yard field goal with 11:24 left in the game missed however, and the score remained 16-7.
West Virginia put together one of its best drive of the night after the missed field goal, driving to the NC State 38 in four plays, but Smith's pass deep was picked off on an impressive leaping effort from sophomore safety Brandan Bishop at the NC State 10 with 10:20 left in the game.
NC State went three and out, and again West Virginia threatened, but Bitancurt missed his second field goal of the game, this time a 41-yarder.
West Virginia's final mistake of the night was when Sanders muffed a punt at the West Virginia 7 with 5:02 left in the game, and it was recovered by NC State junior fullback Taylor Gentry.
Three plays later a scrambling Wilson bought enough time to find fifth-year senior receiver Jarvis Williams for a seven-yard touchdown with 3:55 left to give the Pack an insurmountable 23-7 lead.