Not much could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. Call it a tale of two halves. Call it an unexpected upset. Call it an epic comeback. However it’s defined, it became the most improbable finish I have ever seen. We had just finished our morning adventure in Chapel Hill and thank goodness that we took a breath in between because we would need the oxygen to support all our screaming. Raleigh was ready.
Tailgating exploded around Carter-Finley Stadium and the Wolfpack was gearing to howl – just not in the first half. As kickoff ensued and the game got underway, Florida State looked every bit of their #3 ranking as they shut down the struggling NC State offense and put up a few scores en route to a 16-0 halftime advantage. FSU fans near us cranked out their fight song “F-L-O-R-I-D-A! S-T-A-T-E! Florida State! Florida State! Florida State! Wooooo!” I began to get nervous thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get enough decent photos of a full stadium as I watched hoards of folks make their way to the exits. Many would return, but I could tell that some gave up not having faith that their team could make a second half turnaround. The hostile crowd that I was looking so forward to experiencing had the wind knocked out of them by the Seminoles, and I was preparing for an ugly and long second act to this performance.
By the end of the third quarter, the Wolfpack showed some signs of moving the ball as they managed to clear the goose egg off the scoreboard and close the gap to 16-3. But, you have to understand. That 3 points was an excruciating offensive showcase to witness. Every yard felt like a mile and even though the game was a tad closer on the scoreboard, it still felt like Mt. Everest had to be climbed. In the fourth quarter, a little life crept into the offense as QB Mike Glennon fired a few connections that led the Wolfpack to their first TD of the evening. 16-10. The crowd came to life as they see-sawed the cheer “WOLF!” “PACK!” from one side of the stadium to the other. I wasn’t convinced yet.
The defense kept NC State in this thing, but the offense just seemed to lack the firepower. It wouldn’t be until 2 minutes left when NC State stopped one of many key Seminole drives and blocked the ensuing punt sending the crowd into a screaming frenzy. NC State still had 43 yards to secure the winning score, and again, it felt like Charlotte was closer than the end zone. To add to the intensity and uncertainty of the situation, NC State faced three 4th downs, converting them all including the final play of the drive – a fourth and goal with 16 seconds remaining that resulted in the winning touchdown sending the exasperated crowd into a flurry of high pitched disbelief. 17-16. Final. Florida State fans collapsed as they watched their national championship hopes evaporate into the Carolina air. Carter-Finley Stadium, now at a decibel level resembling a true wolf den, partied on as fans pinched themselves to reinforce this reality. Hoots, hollers, and howls echoed from every direction upon leaving the arena. I kept shaking my head wondering how it could have happened. I’ve seen bigger comebacks measured in point deficits, but the way NC State was playing in the first half, 16-0 really felt more like 56-0. It truly was a remarkable game, and I am proud to have been part of such a historic night in Wolfpack history. Can this momentum last? We’ll see how much howl the Wolfpack has left after tonight.