ACC football: N.C. State 41, UNC 10
By Bret Strelow
CHAPEL HILL ó N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien witnessed a blowout victory, then made a bold proclamation.
Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson threw for a career-high 279 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wolfpack to a 41-10 win against 25th-ranked North Carolina on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
N.C. State, which can become bowl eligible by beating Miami next weekend, went 4-0 this season against in-state opponents. O’Brien is 6-1 in those games since arriving in Raleigh.
“What it speaks to is we’re the best football program in the state, without question,” O’Brien declared. “We are the state university, and we expect to be here. There’s no other way to put it.
“These games are important to us. We’re going to take them all seriously, especially if they’re state rivals.”
North Carolina running back Shaun Draughn lost two fumbles in the first six minutes, and the Tar Heels (7-4, 3-4 ACC) committed six turnovers without forcing one.
N.C. State (5-6, 3-3) also rushed for a season-high 187 yards as it registered its most lopsided win in the series since 1989, when UNC fell 40-6 at Carter-Finley Stadium. A year earlier, the Wolfpack prevailed 48-3 in Chapel Hill.
“They were rolling early, and now reality’s just hit them,” N.C. State running back Jamelle Eugene said of the Tar Heels. “The offensive line and defensive line really put a hurtin’ on them, and that just shows you how much heart they’ve got. They quit toward the end of the game. Let’s be honest about it.
“They knew what was going to happen when we came in here. They talk a lot, talk in the media all week, and I said now that it’s time to talk, they don’t want to talk. The offensive line pounded them into submission, and the defense did their thing.”
The Tar Heels dropped their second straight game and fell out of contention for the Coastal Division title.
T.J. Yates, who has recovered from a broken ankle, started at quarterback for the first time in two months and completed 10 passes in 22 attempts for 116 yards. He threw one interception and was replaced by Cameron Sexton midway through the fourth quarter with UNC trailing 34-10.
The Wolfpack intercepted two of Sexton’s six throws.
“It is extraordinarily disappointing and frustrating to play as poorly as we played today,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “The things that we did today during the course of the game give you absolutely no chance to win the ballgame. There will never be a football game ever played that you can lose a turnover ratio as dramatically as we did today and still give yourselves a chance to win. Six turnovers ó you can almost totally disregard any of the other stats.”
The Tar Heels pulled within 17-10 on Ryan Houston’s short touchdown run halfway through the third quarter, but N.C. State answered with a 10-play scoring drive. Andre Brown capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run.
J.C. Neal forced UNC’s Richard Quinn to fumble the ensuing kickoff, and the Wolfpack recovered the ball at the Tar Heels’ 21-yard line. Wilson connected with Owen Spencer for a score on the next play.
Wilson has totaled 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last seven starts. His current streak of 203 attempts without a pick leads the country.
“I just want to be a winner,” said Wilson, whose only interception of the season came against Clemson. “It doesn’t have to be about me. It’s about winning, and as a quarterback you have to have leadership ability and the ability to win games.”
Yates and Sexton have helped the Tar Heels win enough games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2005, but both struggled against the Wolfpack.
Yates returned to action briefly in a lopsided win against Georgia Tech and didn’t play last weekend in a loss at Maryland.
“We gave him the start based on the things that T.J. has done,” Davis said. “He’s made good decisions with the football. That’s how he got to be the starter in 2007.
“Does that change? You never know. As I told the quarterbacks, you are always going to be the victim of how you have played.”
Sexton, who led the Tar Heels to five wins in seven games as the primary quarterback, ended his first series against N.C. State with an interception.
Linebacker Robbie Leonard picked off Sexton on the first play of UNC’s next drive and raced 23 yards to the Tar Heels’ 1.
“I’m in this thing for whatever’s best for the team, and I’m not being politically correct with you: I want to win first,” Sexton said. “Of course I’m upset about not starting. I’m a competitor, I want to be out there playing, I want to be out there with my teammates.
“I want to win, and if I’m not playing, I want my teammates to win.”