CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Owen Spencer caught a tipped ball in the end zone for a touchdown on fourth down and T.J. Graham returned a punt 87 yards for another score to help North Carolina State rally past rival North Carolina 29-25 on Saturday.
Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes for the Wolfpack (8-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), including the improbable 2-yard score to Spencer late in the third quarter. With the win, N.C. State put itself in position to claim the league's Atlantic Division title and earn a spot in the ACC championship game by winning next weekend at Maryland.
The win also improved Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack to 4-0 against Butch Davis' Tar Heels (6-5, 3-4) since the coaches took over their programs before the 2007 season.
North Carolina appeared to be in control with a 19-10 lead before Spencer and Graham scored touchdowns in a shocking reversal of momentum.
First, the Tar Heels put together a goal-line stand to force a fourth down, but O'Brien passed on a short field goal to make it a one-possession game and went for the touchdown. It appeared to be a mistake when Wilson found himself scrambling around under pressure and lofting a desperate pass into a crowd in the right corner of the end zone.
Safety Da'Norris Searcy and receiver Darrell Davis appeared to tip the ball, which landed in Spencer's arms as he fell to the turf. Officials signaled for a touchdown, a call which stood after a replay review.
Then, after forcing the Tar Heels into a quick punt, Graham caught the ball and blew down the Wolfpack sideline for the 87-yard score and a 24-19 lead with 14:07 left. N.C. State added a short field goal from Josh Czajkowski -- who returned after he was originally thought to be out for the year with a hamstring injury -- to push that margin to eight points with about 6 minutes left.
That lead ultimately held, though T.J. Yates did everything he could to keep the Tar Heels in it. He directed a touchdown drive with about a minute left, but his desperate heave into traffic for the tying 2-point conversion -- in the same area where Spencer came up with the TD catch -- fell incomplete.
North Carolina got the ball back for one more drive at its own 5 with 36 seconds left and no timeouts, but Terrell Manning sacked Yates in the end zone for a safety that essentially ended this one.
Yates finished 33-for-44 for 411 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game. He also set the school's single-season and career passing yardage records, though he was never able to give Davis' program its first win against the Wolfpack.
The Tar Heels didn't help themselves by failing to capitalize on their scoring chances. They settled for field goals from Casey Barth after pushing to the N.C. State 2- and 4-yard lines, missed opportunities that came back to haunt them after Graham's go-ahead score.
North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick and N.C. State receiver Jarvis Williams were ejected after they were in a scuffle in the confusion following Spencer's score.