N.C. State finishes strong to overcome Miss. State PEACH BOWL

January 03, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- In the days leading to the Peach Bowl, North Carolina State coach Mike O'Cain spoke several times of wanting a victory to help move his program to another level.

Sunday night at the Georgia Dome, his defense was already on another plateau. And his offense wasn't far behind in a 28-24 victory over Mississippi State.

After repeated scoring drives by each team, the No. 23 Wolfpack (9-3) took control late in the third period, just when it appeared the Bulldogs were seizing the momentum, capitalizing on a series of N.C. State mistakes for two quick field goals and a safety for an eight-point lead.

But, trailing 21-13, the Wolfpack ripped off a time-consuming drive for a touchdown and tying two-point conversion on its last possession of the third period. And on its first drive of the fourth quarter it struck quickly, going 80 yards in four plays for a 28-21 lead.

From there the defense made it stand despite repeated tests by 16th-ranked Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (8-4) had four drives to mount a comeback in the final 13 minutes but could get nothing more than a 30-yard field goal by Tim Rogers.

Mississippi State was 0-for-7 on third-down conversions in the second half, and also failed on a fourth-down attempt. The final chance came with one minute, eight seconds left, when Derrick Taite's pass on fourth-and-19 fell off target, giving N.C. State the ball and sending its fans in the crowd of 64,902 into a raucous celebration.

"The defense played its best game of the entire season," said Wolfpack tailback Tremayne Stephens, a 5-11 freshman who rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries.

Both offenses set a relentless back-at-you pace all night.

When the Bulldogs opened the game by moving quickly down the field for a 37-yard Rogers field goal, the Wolfpack answered immediately with a 10-play, 80-yard drive. Stephens had gains of 12 and 14 yards in the push, then capped it by taking Terry Harvey's pitch in for the final yard. Steve Videtich's kick put N.C. State ahead 7-3.

Mississippi State picked its way 76 yards to the N.C. State 10. But the Bulldogs gained only 6 yards on three runs, and settled for a 21-yard Rogers field goal and a 7-6 deficit.

The scoring exchanges continued almost unabated through the rest of the first half. Videtich kicked a 45-yard field goal for the Wolfpack, Michael Davis ran 9 yards for a Bulldogs touchdown and Videtich kicked a 36-yard field goal. That left the teams even at 13 at halftime.

The game appeared to careen sharply off course for the Wolfpack, however, as the third period began. Chad Robson got a high snap on a punt from N.C. State's 39 and the Bulldogs' Andre Bennett blocked it. Adrian Hill picked it up near the goal line, but was tackled for a safety.

The Bulldogs followed with two more Rogers field goals, of 29 and 36 yards, for a 21-13 cushion with 8:36 left in the third quarter.

But the air didn't go out of the Wolfpack. Instead N.C. State went 69 yards in 16 plays for a 3-yard, Harvey-to-Dallas Dickerson scoring play, followed by Harvey's run for a two-point conversion and a 21-21 deadlock.

The defense held the Bulldogs without a first down and, this time, the Wolfpack offense scored in a hurry, thanks primarily to a 62-yard pass play from Harvey to Jimmy Grissett. Freshman fullback Carlos King took a pitch from Harvey and covered the final 11 yards for the touchdown.

The defense took over from there.

"I thought it was very evident that both teams made plays in the first half," said Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill. "I thought they made more plays in the second half and that was the difference in the game.

"They had two drives in the second half and scored 15 points to take away the momentum. I'm tremendously disappointed."

O'Cain left saluting his defense.

"The defense did an excellent job," he said. "The key is we did not give up one touchdown in the first part of the third quarter [when errors led to the Bulldogs' safety and two field goals]."

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