4:30 PM ET, August 24, 2002
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Mr. Automatic was clutch again for North Carolina State.
Philip Rivers had no trouble with New Mexico's blitzing defense, throwing for three touchdowns and running for two more as the Wolfpack beat the Lobos 34-14 in the Black Coaches Association Bowl on Saturday.
Rivers was 15-for-24 for 276 yards against a defense that was ranked 18th in the nation a season ago. He has thrown at least one TD pass in 21 of his 25 starts.
"The work I did over the summer and in the spring paid off with keeping my eyes downfield while I'm scrambling,'' Rivers said. "I didn't get my head down or caught on one guy.''
The Lobos, making their first trip east of the Mississippi River since 1998, were 6-5 last season after finishing strong behind former walk-on quarterback Casey Kelly.
But New Mexico did little against N.C. State's defense, gaining just 72 yards in the first half to fall behind by three touchdowns as the Wolfpack won their sixth straight opener.
"The first half we played like a high school football team,'' New Mexico coach Rocky Long said. "We had receivers wandering wide open, we had guys blitzing wrong gaps, we couldn't convert on a third down and we were a very immature football team.''
Rivers was on his game, driving the Wolfpack 80, 96 and 89 yards in the opening half for a 21-0 lead in a game that was delayed 45 minutes by lightning.
"We knew he was a good player and he didn't disappoint us,'' Long said.
Rivers' scoring passes were 21 and 12 yards to Bryan Peterson -- who has caught at least one pass in 26 straight games -- and a 50-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery with 9:30 remaining. The quarterback's TD runs were on 1-yard keepers.
"He's a huge security blanket for us,'' running back Greg Golden said of Rivers, who has thrown 44 touchdown passes in 25 games. "He keeps the stress level low, he makes us keep our cool. He's pretty much like a coach out there on the field, and that's what we love about him.
"We expect games like this from Phil. Just like in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers lean on Brett Favre and I feel like Philip is N.C. State's Brett Favre.''
Peterson was involved in two key pass drops for the Wolfpack early on.
The wide receiver's pass to a wide open Sterling Hicks after taking a handoff from Rivers on the game's first play was dropped at midfield. Peterson then dropped one in the end zone five plays before catching his first of two TDs.
New Mexico's defense helped the Wolfpack go up by 14 early in the second quarter.
N.C. State had driven into field goal range at the 31 before Rivers was sacked by Charles Moss, but the linebacker was called for a facemask penalty to keep the drive alive. Then, one play after a holding call against the Wolfpack made it first-and-20, a pass-interference penalty set up N.C. State at the 15. Rivers capped the long drive a minute later with his short run.
Peterson's diving TD catch on a slant 4:31 before the half came one play after Rivers scrambled out of the pocket and hit the senior on a 28-yard play along the right sideline.
New Mexico drove to the N.C. State 32 for its best field position on its first drive on the second half. However, Kelly's third-down pass was intercepted by Marcus Hudson.
Quincy Wright capped New Mexico's next drive with a 3-yard scoring run as the Lobos pulled within 14 with 6:44 left in the third quarter.
Rivers then made his best play to put the game out of reach.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pounder was being dragged to the ground by the New Mexico defense, but managed to complete a pass to Hicks, who rambled to the 4 for a 46-yard gain. Rivers then scored on his second QB sneak.
"That would have been my chance to throw it left-handed but I couldn't switch the ball over,'' Rivers said about his remarkable completion.''
"He's so natural,'' added Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato of his star quarterback, 84 yards shy of 6,000 for his career. "He does so much for this football team.''
Golden, a converted defensive back, started at tailback for N.C. State. His first game on offense was just average with 35 yards on 13 carries. T.A. McLendon, the national high school record-holder with 170 career rushing touchdowns, looked good in his collegiate debut, gaining 79 yards on 20 rushes.
"A lot of people said the running back position was a sore spot and we were just hiding it and deep-down inside we felt like it was going to be a problem,'' Amato said. "But those young backs didn't put the ball on the ground and they ran hard.''