Wednesday, November 17, 2010

O'Brien believes finale of 2009 UNC win set the tone for this year

N.C. State players were exhuberant last season when the Wolfpack blocked North Carolina’s 38-yard field goal with 4:44 to play, but State coach Tom O’Brien showed no emotion on the sideline.

O’Brien knew this wild game at Carter-Finley Stadium still hung in the balance, and the coming minutes would prove decisive for State, and have an impact on the 2010 season.

The Wolfpack is now 7-3 and needs a win Saturday in Chapel Hill to keep alive its hopes for its first ACC title since 1979. The seeds of this season’s success date back to last season, when State calmly ground down Carolina in the final minutes with a critical drive after that blocked field goal.

Russell Wilson hit Toney Baker for a 16-yard pass and Baker ran 14 yards as State pushed out to the UNC 47-yard line with 3:31 to play.

The Heels called time, and O’Brien motioned Wilson to come to over to him. When Wilson didn’t come all the way, O’Brien demaned he come further. Relax, O’Brien said. Be smart. Finish it off. And Wlson did, hitting Owen Spencer on a perfect throw for a first down on thrd-and-11. State didn’t relinquish the ball until only 23 seconds remained and won, 28-27.

Asked Wednesday if that game “carried over,” O’Brien said, “I think certainly it did. You go back to even the year before - Russell going down at halftime of the bowl of game was a harbinger [of the 2009 season]. By the same token, the last game we had last year, I think that set the table for where we were headed and what we were going and the belief we could be a good football team.

“We’ve shown the ability. We’re 7-3 but the three losses are all in overtime, in the last minute, last three minutes.”

N.C. State finished last season only 5-7, its fourth straight losing season and third under O’Brien. But asked to assess his program overall, O’Brien said, “I think we’re definitely on the way. We had some situations the last two years that didn’t allow us to get into the position we are in today.”

Now, State has seven wins for the first time since 2005.

“It speaks volumes to where the program is headed,” O’Brien said. “We came in here, we had a plan, we stuck to our plan. We plan was set back by defections and injuries and not having a consistency on the field.”

That plan got a big lift last year in the final minutes of that win over UNC.

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