RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State tight end George Bryan grew up in Castle Hayne, N.C., about 90 minutes away from campus, rooting for the Wolfpack and going to games almost every weekend with his parents.
Never before, though, has he been able to cheer like this.
Then again, never before has Bryan been at the center of it, and bowl-eligible before November.
“I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the whole world.”
Bryan, who caught the game-winning touchdown in a 28-24 upset of Florida State, is part of something NC State hasn’t seen in seven years. The win over the Seminoles put NC State in a position to have its best season since the Philip Rivers era. The Wolfpack (6-2, 3-1 ACC), who now trails Florida State (6-2, 4-1) in the Atlantic Division standings by a half-game, are bowl-eligible before November for the first time since 2003, when they finished 8-5. The Pack have never won more than six games under fourth-year head coach Tom O’Brien, and are now in position to have their first winning season since 2005.
O’Brien -- one of the most even-keeled coaches in the business -- was quick to shift the focus to Clemson, the Wolfpack’s next opponent. He’s right. There is no margin for error considering Florida State still leads the Atlantic Division. But the fact that NC State is in a position to win the division is reason to celebrate in Raleigh.
“We fought through this thing,” O’Brien said. “Six wins is significant. We’ve had one winning season here in the last six years. It’s pretty amazing to be in the situation we’re in and to be able to continue this, but we’ve got to go to Death Valley and make it all happen again.”
Thursday night’s thriller is going to be hard to repeat.
NC State scored four straight touchdowns to climb out of a 21-7 deficit, and took the lead on one of the gutsiest calls of the season. On fourth and inches, NC State lined up to kick a field goal but called timeout for a change of plans. O’Brien couldn’t quite see where the ball was, and offensive coordinator Dana Bible kept saying, “We’re six inches, we’re six inches!”
Quarterback Russell Wilson found Bryan wide open in the end zone with 2:40 left to play.
“Sometimes, in spite of myself, we win games,” O’Brien deadpanned.
The defense preserved the win with an all-out blitz. Linebacker Nate Irving, who was taken out of the game for a sprained thumb, was the one who recovered the fumble. It was a play-action, and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder extended the ball too far and lost it.
“It means a lot, just from the way we won the game,” Irving said. “We had to come back and fight, just one play at a time, offense and defense. We all had to stick together and face that team, a great Florida State team and come back and win.”
Bryan remembers his senior year in high school, in 2006, watching John Dunlap catch the game-winner against Florida State. Bryan has seen some big wins at NC State, but he’s never been a part of one like this.
“This is definitely the biggest,” Bryan said. “This is the one we needed the most and we got it.”
Of course, it only makes the next one bigger.
"Hopefully we're going to do this for a long time," O'Brien said. "It's just the start. The next game is the biggest game of my tenure."