Cavaliers Lose Close One to NC State
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -North Carolina State spent six weeks making Tom O’Brien’s first season here look like a lost cause. Now the Wolfpack look like a confident team that thinks it can play with anybody.
Daniel Evans threw for a career-high 347 yards and three touchdowns, two to Donald Bowens, to lead the Wolfpack past No. 21 Virginia 29-24 on Saturday. That gave N.C. State consecutive wins for the first time in a year while ending a nine-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak.
Bowens finished with career-highs of 11 catches for 202 yards for N.C. State (3-5, 1-3), which earned its first ACC win since beating Florida State here last October. Koyal George added a touchdown on the first catch of his career, while Jamelle Eugene ran for a career-best 112 yards.
Virginia (7-2, 4-1) came in looking for a school-record eighth straight win and hoping to hold on to the conference’s Coastal Division lead. But the Wolfpack responded with the kind of solid performance that it seemed incapable of delivering earlier this season, from the Evans-to-Bowens-powered offense to a defense that controlled the Cavaliers after halftime.
“I feel like we’re buying more into the system now,” Eugene said. “We tried to do it our own way, and that wasn’t working. It got us a 1-5 record. So we’re just buying into the coaching staff and what they’re telling us to do and believing in each other a little more than we have.”
Very little had gone right for N.C. State in O’Brien’s first season until last week, when the Wolfpack emerged from a fundamentals-heavy bye week to win at East Carolina. Evans threw for 335 yards and three scores in that game, while the Wolfpack forced two turnovers and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Evans was just as good Saturday, and the defense held Virginia to 97 yards in the second half.
“Without a question, I think that off week was a great thing for this football team,” O’Brien said. “I’m so happy for these kids. But like I told them, we can be happy, but not satisfied.”
Jameel Sewell threw for a career-best 260 yards and two scores to lead the Cavaliers before leaving with leg cramps with about 7 minutes left. Mikell Simpson also scored a pair of touchdowns, but the team that had shown a knack for finding a way to win just couldn’t do it against the Wolfpack.
“I wouldn’t call it living on the edge,” said Virginia coach Al Groh, whose team had won four games by a combined 6 points. “I’d say we did whatever we had to to win in previous games, and in this particular game, we didn’t do enough to win.”
The Cavaliers’ failure to stop Bowens, a 6-foot-3 sophomore with 15 catches for 252 yards all season, might have been the biggest reason. Pressed into the starting lineup due to an ankle injury to John Dunlap, Bowens proved to be a tough-to-cover deep threat.
Bowens scored on a 40-yard pass from Evans on N.C. State’s first possession, then came up with the go-ahead score by beating defender Ras-I Dowling to Evans’ high 30-yard pass in the back corner of the end zone to make it 29-24 with 7:37 to play.
Bowens also came up with a big catch with the Wolfpack trying to work on the clock with the lead, outjumping Dowling again for a 28-yard gain on third down with about 2 1/2 minutes left.
“Their DBs sort of sat there and I knew running by them they wouldn’t be able to turn around in time,” Bowens said. “I just went out there and did what I had to do.”
The Cavaliers hadn’t lost since tallying just 110 yards in a one-sided defeat at Wyoming in the season opener. Along the way, Virginia had beaten Middle Tennessee on a field goal with 8 seconds left and edged Connecticut on a field goal with about 3 minutes to play.
Last week, the Cavaliers beat Maryland when Simpson ran for the winning score with 16 seconds left to cap a dazzling all-around performance that made him the league’s offensive back of the week.
But they couldn’t keep the fourth-quarter magic going, taking their last lead at 24-23 on Simpson’s spinning 5-yard touchdown run with 13:12 to play. Virginia had a final chance, but Willie Young sacked backup quarterback Peter Lalich on fourth down to seal it with 17 seconds left.
“Guys are heartbroken,” Virginia defensive end Chris Long said. “We put everything into this, and when you lose a football game, it means a lot. … It can tear your heart out.”