BIRMINGHAM -- The 2008 Papajohns.com Bowl can best be described as a tale of two halves, and the difference was NC State redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson.
In the first half with Wilson under center, the Wolfpack controlled the action en route to a 17-6 lead at halftime. However, Wilson sprained his knee while scrambling to the Rutgers 5-yard line on a 16-yard line and would not return in the second half.
The result saw Rutgers rally past NC State 29-23.
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NC State was one of the hottest teams in the country entering the Papajohns.com Bowl Monday afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. However, their opponent, Rutgers, may be even hotter.
NC State had won four straight to close the year while Rutgers is riding a six-game winning streak.
The two kicked off at 3 p.m., eastern time to determine which team will end the 2008 season on the high note, but the game could not have started any worse for the Pack.
NC State redshirt junior running back Jamelle Eugene fumbled the very first play from scrimmage while running for a first down close to midfield.
Rutgers took over at the 50, and then used a fake field goal to score the game's first touchdown. Defensive back Rob Cervini, Rutgers' holder, kept the snap and ran it in six yards for the touchdown. It was Cervini's first ever play for the Scarlet Knights. San San Te's extra point though was no good, and Rutgers led 6-0 with 11:47 left in the first quarter.
State answered on its next drive. Wilson converted a third and 11 with a 12-yard scramble, and then hit sophomore receiver Owen Spencer later in the drive on a 44-yard bomb to the end zone to give the Wolfpack a 7-6 lead following the extra point with 7:54 left in the first quarter.
After forcing a Rutgers' punt, Wilson connected with redshirt sophomore Jarvis Williams on a 37-yard pass down the sideline, and then hit Williams' classmate Darrell Davis on a 23-yard play, putting the Pack in position for redshirt sophomore kicker Josh Czajkowski's 33-yard field goal with 1:00 left in the quarter. NC State led 10-6 at that point.
Rutgers had a chance to slice into the lead at the 4:38 mark left in the first half, but Te's 30-yard field goal was partially blocked by Wolfpack senior defensive tackle Antoine Holmes. The Scarlet Knights had started the drive on the Wolfpack 44-yard line thanks to a poor punt by NC State's senior Bradley Pierson.
State took advantage of the missed field goal. Wilson led an 80-yard touchdown drive that ended on senior running back Andre Brown's 4-yard run with 38 seconds left. Wilson did some damage with his legs as well, running for 40 yards on three scrambles. He also connected with Williams on a 22-yard play.
At the half NC State had 269 yards of total offense compared to 115 for Rutgers. Wilson was 11-of-23 passing for 186 yards and a touchdown and ran eight more times for 46 yards. Williams was his favorite target, catching five passes for 95 yards.
But the game changed dramatically with Wilson's departure.
Rutgers drove to the NC State 11-yard line on its opening second half possession, but a holding penalty backed them up. They were forced to kick a 31-yard field goal, cutting State's lead to 17-9 with 10:14 left.
State went three and out with redshirt junior Harrison Beck at quarterback on its opening series. Pierson's punt was then blocked by receiver Tiquan Underwood, and Underwood recovered it at the NC State 17-yard line. Three plays later, Teel hit Underwood for an 11-yard touchdown. Rutgers elected for the extra point rather than try to tie it, making it 17-16 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
NC State had a great chance to change the momentum back in their favor after junior safety Clem Johnson picked off Teel and returned it to the Rutgers 21-yard line, but two plays later Beck was intercepted at the goal line by linebacker Ryan D'Imperio.
Rutgers used that turnover to start a drive that went to the NC State 10-yard line before stalling out. A 28-yard field goal by Te though put the Scarlet Knights on top 19-17 with 13:31 left.
The third quarter was not pretty for the Pack. Rutgers outgained them 152 to five in total yards, had 10 first downs compared to none for State and owned an impressive 11:16 to 3:44 time of possession advantage.
Fifth-year senior Daniel Evans then replaced Beck and engineered a masterful eight-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown to fifth-year senior tight end Anthony Hill. State went for two, but Evans' pass was incomplete. However, the score put the Pack up 23-19 with 9:21 left in the game.
Rutgers did not need long though to go back in front and this time for good. Starting at their own 35, Teel hit receiver Dennis Campbell for 22 yards, and then went deep, connecting with star receiver Kenny Britt for a 42-yard touchdown.
With 8:30 left in the game, Rutgers was back in front 26-23. Evans was intercepted on the Pack's next possession at the Rutgers 32-yard line.
Teel led another drive to the Wolfpack two-yard line, before Rutgers settled for a 24-yard field goal by Te to go up 29-23 with 47 seconds left.
Evans tried to lead one last miracle in his career, but he was intercepted by Rutgers' Courtney Green at the Rutgers 20-yard line with nine seconds left.
Teel was selected as the game's MVP after completing 22 of 37 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns with a pick. Britt caught six of those passes for 119 yards and a score.