COLLEGE PARK, Md. — NC State has made a habit out of making things exciting, yet hard for themselves. The games against Maryland have also been nothing short of exhilarating the last several years.
The two forces combined Saturday with NC State pulling out a near improbable 20-18 comeback win that came down to the waning seconds at Byrd Stadium. Maryland freshman kicker Brad Craddock was poised to be the hero with a 33-yard field, but his kick hit the left upright with two seconds left, and the Terrapins' homecoming crowd was stunned.
NC State was excited and humble about the victory, which continues to mean the Wolfpack control their destiny in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. NC State improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the league, and play at North Carolina next Saturday, with a five-game winning streak against its rival. Maryland fell to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the ACC.
The missed Craddock field goal was in stark contrast to NC State's sophomore kicker Niklas Sade's attempt, which proved to be the game-winner with 32 seconds remaining. Sade calmly drilled a 43-yarder to cap a 10-play, 54-yard drive, which fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon engineered.
"It was a crazy game and a huge play by Sade to make that kick," Glennon said. "You figure the game was over, but that quarterback that came in [freshman Caleb Rowe] did a great job leading them down the field.
"You have hope that he's going to miss it, but you never really know what's going to happen. It's a great win, but hate to see it end that way in that fashion."
Sade has never shrunk from the moment in the past and felt confident going into what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.
"I know anywhere he [Coach O'Brien] puts me, I can make it," Sade said. "I just ran out there and kicked it, and it's just unexplainable how I felt."
NC State coach Tom O'Brien knows playing at Maryland hasn't been easy for the Wolfpack over the years, and was thrilled to come away with a big road win in what he called the "Bermuda Triangle" for the Wolfpack. NC State won for the first time at Maryland since 2004, and snapped a 16-game road-losing streak to Atlantic Division opponents.
"Sometimes in a course of a season you got to win a game you scratch your head on," O'Brien said. "It was a great effort. Mike is a big-league quarterback, there is no question about it.
"Niklas just drilled it right down the middle, so it was a great victory. It was a tough loss for somebody, but thank goodness it was not us."
Craddock proved his mettle following the game by answering the media's question after the game.
"I really didn't see it after I kicked it," Craddock said. "I just reacted to everyone else. I just tried to look at my spot and kick the ball. I actually thought I hit it pretty well. Afterwards, I didn't really know what to think."
Glennon's third down and 10 conversion to redshirt junior tight end Asa Watson for 14 yards, and his 14-yard pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Rashard Smith to the Maryland 31-yard line helped set drive in motion. Glennon capacity to perform in the clutch has carried the Wolfpack the last two games, including a 17-16 upset of No. 3-ranked Florida State Oct. 6. It's just part of the job in being a quarterback and team leader.
Glennon finished 23-of-47 passing for 307 yards and two touchdowns, and helped the offense finish with zero turnovers.
"That was a very good defense and very well coached," Glennon said. "The first quarter, we had a hard time, and second quarter, kind of found a rhythm, but you didn't really feel like you were on the field that much.
"I'm sure the fans sitting at home were having as close to a heart attack as there is."
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Bryan Underwood finished with six receptions for 134 yards and a 68-yard third quarter touchdown pass, which extended his streak to a score in all seven games this season (eight total).
"We control our own destiny, and a loss would have done us more harm than good," Underwood said. "We just knew that we couldn't leave her without a win.
"Mike just shows his veteran skills out there and keeps his composure."
NC State appeared to have made a game-changing turnover when fifth-year senior strong safety Earl Wolff forced a fumble against Maryland freshman running back Wes Brown at the NC State 44-yard line with 3:29 left in the game.
NC State quickly moved to the Maryland 41-yard line due to a pass interference penalty, but the Wolfpack managed to lose three yards over the next four plays and turned it over on downs. The Florida State last-minute heroics went on pause, and NCSU needed its defense to come through one last time.
Brown rushed for three yards on three different plays to set up fourth down and one at the NC State 47, but elected to punt, giving the Wolfpack the ball with 2:17 left in the game. It proved to be enough time even without any timeouts remaining.
Maryland was forced to use three different quarterbacks — true freshmen Perry Hills (the starter) and Rowe, with sophomore Devin Burns playing the majority of the second half.
Hills was knocked out of the game and possibly the rest of the season with a knee injury, after throwing an interception to NC State junior cornerback David Amerson with a minute left in the first half. The Wolfpack almost had a touchdown on the play, but a blocking in the back penalty whipped out the apparent pick-six, but the play proved costly to the young Terrapins.
The athletic Burns brought a running dimension to the Terrapins offense. He finished with 50 yards on 12 carries and a two-yard score in the third quarter, and went 3-of-4 passing for 47 yards, but wasn't asked to throw downfield often.
Rowe burned his redshirt by playing the last series of the game, and was poised to be the hero before Craddock's field goal hit the upright. He completed a pair of passes for 50 yards, and rushed for 10 on two carries. The three quarterbacks collectively went 17 of 27 for 256 yards and an interception, and rushed 20 times for 46 yards and a score.
"Probably the worst thing that happened to us was we knocked the quarterback out of the game," O'Brien said. "You get ready for a little bit of option, but you don't get ready for a lot of option that you saw. You don't have the time to practice it. We finally solved it."
The spread option with Burns helped freshman running back Wes Brown to run downhill more often. Brown, who missed last week's game against Virginia, tallied 121 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. He had 97 yards on 20 carries in the second half.
"The zone read, we just had to adjust to that," said NC State sophomore defensive tackle T.Y. McGill, who had six tackles and two sacks. "After we adjusted to it, everything fell into place for us. We knew we couldn't let them run like this."
Maryland struck first after using its short passing game to create a few big plays. Sophomore wide receiver Marcus Leak caught a 47-yard pass after a short pass and run to help set up Craddock with a 36-yard field goal with 8:50 left in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead.
NC State's defense adjusted to the short passes to star freshman receiver Stefon Diggs and Leak and put some serious pressure on Hills. The Wolfpack finished with five of their six sacks in the first half.
The Wolfpack offense struggled early to find their stride. Redshirt junior Quintin Payton came up with a big 34-yard catch to the Maryland 27-yard line. NCSU offensive coordinator Dana Bible dug deep into his bag of tricks and dialed up a pass to redshirt sophomore Logan Winkles. The play surprised the Maryland defense and Winkles broke free and caught a 25-yard touchdown catch for his first career score to give the Wolfpack a 7-3 lead with 11:16 left in the second quarter.
Glennon faced a difficult third down and 16 midway through the second quarter, but hit Underwood for a 28-yard reception to the Maryland 27-yard line. The drive stalled at the Terrapins' four-yard line, and Sade smoothly made a 21-yard field goal and the Wolfpack took a 10-3 lead with 5:53 left in the half.
NC State helped set up the Terrapins next score. Sophomore punter Wil Baumann inexplicably dropped the snap and had his punt blocked by tight end Dave Stinebaugh and recovered at the NC State 44-yard line with 12:05 left in the third quarter.
Burns and Brown took over from there, with Brown rushing for a one-yard touchdown run with 7:40 left. However, Craddock's extra point missed and NC State clung to a 10-9 lead.
The momentum swung quickly back with a rare one-play drive by NC State. Glennon found a streaking Underwood for a 68-yard touchdown, and the Wolfpack surged to a 17-9 lead with 7:26 left in the third.
"The corner bit on my outside move and I just took off," Underwood said. "They didn't see me leave and Mike threw a great ball, and I went to go get it."
Burns didn't shrink from the moment and mixed in a 23-yard quarterback draw, and then Leak took a short pass and went 48 yards to the NCSU 2-yard line.
Burns' effective play-action fake helped him waltz in for a two-yard touchdown run, but the two-point conversion failed, allowing NC State to cling to a 17-15 lead with 3:33 left in the third quarter. The missed Craddock extra point and failed two-point conversion play helped alter the outcome.
Craddock connected on his second field goal of the game, on a 48-yarder with 13:39 remaining to give the Terrapins an 18-17 lead. NC State's defense took over from there to give the offense a chance to win the game.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall previously lost quarterback C.J. Brown for the season with an ACL injury, and he feared Hills could be suffering a similar fate.
"That was a very disappointing and heartbreaking loss we had out there, but the guys competed and played very hard," Edsall said. "They gave everything they had. We put ourselves in a position to win the game there at the end, but we just came up short.
"I think we have two guys [Rowe and Burns] who will help us move forward, and it's a credit to how they prepared and to our offensive coaches for having those kids ready."