In a game that would predict the measure of pressure on both Chuck Amato and John Bunting for the rest of the season, it was UNC's Bunting who again deflated that pressure and left the field victorious for the second straight season against his in-state rival.
After the Wolfpack had pulled ahead 24-10 in the opening of the third quarter and appeared poised to run away with the victory everyone expected, North Carolina countered with two quick touchdown drives of their own. They added a grinding fourth quarter drive that ate up 6:39 of the fourth quarter and ended with a 24-yard field goal from Connor Barth to put the Heels up for good 31-24.
NC State had one last chance with 1:01 left and the ball on its 32-yard line, but the drive ended with a pass from Davis being knocked down in the endzone.
The game was another messy match full of penalties, turnovers, and big plays that has plagued NC State. The game featured 19 total penalties for 148 yards, four turnovers (another was negated by a penalty), and two special teams mishaps as neither team seemed to calm down and just play football.
North Carolina's scrutinized rushing offense moved the ball with ease all day against the vaunted Wolfpack defense, amassing 144 yards on 49 attempts, 140 from starting tailback Barrington Edwards.
Despite giving up big yardage on the ground, NC State's defense kept pressure on North Carolina quarterback Matt Baker, sacking him six times for a total loss of 50 yards, but in the end Baker made the plays when it counted, completing 12-of-14 passes for 174 yards in the second half.
In the first half, it looked like anyone's game. Turnovers and penalties dominated the action, and both teams squandered opportunities to seize control of the contest.
"That was as sloppy a first half of football as you'll ever want to see," said Wolfpack head coach Chuck Amato.
Early in the game, Wolfpack safety Garland Heath made the first big play for the Wolfpack, snagging an interception in the endzone on UNC's opening drive. But North Carolina would hold NC State to three-and-out before senior Wallace Wright blocked John Deraney's punt and Quinton Person ran it in 11 yards for a touchdown.
Later, a bad snap on a UNC punt set up a 14-yard scoring run by dazzling true freshman Toney Baker, who tallied 58 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the day. The Tar Heels countered by batting a backward pass and recovering it at NC State's 6-yard line, a possession earned after the original call was overturned by replay review.
But, Wolfpack senior linebacker Oliver Hoyte seemed to save the day when he flattened Barrington Edwards to force a lost fumble on UNC's 2-yard line. Pack quarterback Jay Davis returned the favor, botching a snap two plays later that the Tar Heels would recover. Moments later, Matt Baker found Jawarski Pollock for a 3-yard touchdown reception, giving the Heels a 14-10 lead.
The Wolfpack had an opportunity to score before halftime, moving the ball 53 yards to the UNC 7-yard line with 20 seconds left in the half. However, after Anthony Hill was tackled inbounds after a five-yard completion, the Wolfpack, with no time outs left, was unable to attempt a field goal before time expired.
NC State came out on fire to begin the 3rd quarter. Ingited by a 74-yard kickoff return by Darrell Blackman, the Wolfpack scored 14 points in the first 2:21 of the 3rd quarter. A three-yard run by Toney Baker capped the first scoring drive, and after the Wolfpack defense made three consecutive stops for losses, on the next possession Davis connected with tight end T.J. Williams on a 39-yard bomb to put the Pack up 24-14. Williams would lead the Wolfpack with six receptions for 77 yards. For the game, Davis completed 21-of-35 attempts for 257 yards and one touchdown.
North Carolina retaliated with a two-yard run by Edwards, and on its next drive Matt Baker completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jon Hamlett. In the two drives Matt Baker completed seven straight passes for a total of 125 yards. Baker would finish with 13-of-23 passes completed for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter, the Heels dominated possesion, holding the ball 10:39 of the quarter, and leaving the NC State defense exhausted, and the NC State offense with little time to come back.
Both teams now face difficult opponents after such an emotional contest. NC State (1-2) heads to Atlanta for a Thursday night game against Georgia Tech while North Carolina returns home for a nonconference game against Utah.