Wolfpack cap best season in school history


Toyota Gator Bowl coverage

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- A little trickery on offense. A lot of
jarring hits on defense, especially the one that knocked the
quarterback on his back and out of the game.

That was all No. 17 North Carolina State needed to dissolve the Irish mystique Wednesday in the Toyota Gator Bowl and state its case as a program on the rise.

Led by quarterback Philip Rivers and a defense that didn't give
up a touchdown for the second straight game, the Wolfpack (11-3)
finished off the best season in school history with a 28-6 victory
over Notre Dame (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP).

"We had a great season, then we put a stamp on it,'' coach
Chuck Amato said. "To have (victory) No. 11 be Notre Dame, to win
back-to-back against Florida State and Notre Dame, two of the best
programs in America ... It's hard to do.''

The defense didn't allow a touchdown in the last two games, and
while the trick plays were entertaining Wednesday, it was
linebacker Dantonio Burnette who set the tone.

The Irish had second-and-goal from the 1 on their second
possession of the game when Carlyle Holiday ran right and was
hammered by Burnette, separating his shoulder.

"When I hit him I heard him groan, and when I looked down he
was still on the ground,'' Burnette said. "I was like, 'OK, this
is going to turn the game around now.'''

The Irish had to settle for a field goal, and they never found
an answer for Rivers and a Wolfpack offense that made them look bad
for the second game in a row.

Rivers completed 13 consecutive passes as N.C. State scored
three touchdowns in the second quarter, one of them on a
fumblerooski and another set up by a flea-flicker.

Early in the third quarter, Wolfpack receiver Bryan Peterson had
more passing yards on two trick players (27) than either of the
Irish quarterbacks.

"Every game they show you something you haven't seen,'' Notre
Dame safety Glenn Earl said. "They were able to get us off
balance. And they executed well.''

The Irish (10-3) not only lost Holiday, they lost
their temper with three personal fouls and wound up losing their
sixth consecutive bowl game.

This one put a damper on an otherwise remarkable year.

Coming off a 5-6 season, Notre Dame won its first eight games
and started thinking about a record ninth national championship.
Instead, the Irish lost three of their last five games, and the
last two were embarrassing.

"It's still a very good season,'' coach Tyrone Willingham said.
"There are not that many 10-win teams in the country. At the same
time, we have to become accustomed to winning our last game,
whether it's the regular season or a bowl game.''

Notre Dame gave up a school-record 610 yards in a 44-13 loss to
Southern California, and a defense determined to show that game was
a fluke looked hapless against the Wolfpack.

N.C. State went 96 and 76 yards on consecutive drives, and there
was nothing the Irish could do about it. Notre Dame, which allowed
145 points in its first 11 games, gave up 72 points in its last

Rivers, bobbing and weaving through the pass rush, was 23-for-37
for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Jerricho Cotchery caught 10
passes for 127 yards.

The Wolfpack defense did its part, hitting harder and with more
purpose. It finished in style, denying a garbage score in the final
seconds when Notre Dame had first-and-goal from the 2.

RodJohnson, a senior safety who came in with one career
interception, had three off Notre Dame backup Pat Dillingham, all
in double- and triple-coverage.

The Wolfpack had never won more than 10 games in a season in
their 111-year history, and saw this game -- and this opponent -- as
a chance to start putting their program on the map.

"It seemed like we were the other team down here all week,''
Burnette said.

In what looked like sandlot football at times, N.C. State ran
three trick plays during one drive.

On the fumblerooski, the linemen were upright and didn't move
even after the ball was snapped to Rivers, who was in a short,
shotgun formation. Rivers quickly slipped the ball under the legs
of T.A. McLendon in front of him, and the freshman plowed in for a
3-yard score, his second touchdown.

N.C. State's defense never gave Dillingham much time to throw,
or many options when he did manage to get the pass off. He threw
into double coverage and was intercepted byJohnson late in the
second quarter.

That led to another Wolfpack touchdown -- set up by another trick

Rivers short-hopped a lateral to Bryan Peterson, who scooped it
up and threw 24 yards to Joseph Gray. There was no one within 15
yards of the 260-pound tight end, but he fell down catching the

Three plays later, Rivers found Cotchery for a 9-yard touchdown.

The Irish got inside the 25 three times in the second half, but
managed only a field goal. Their last bowl victory was 24-21
against Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl.