ORLANDO, Fla. -- An opportunistic defense and conservative offense was a successful combination for North Carolina State, which jumped out to a 21-point lead, then hung on to defeat the University of Central Florida 28-21.
N.C. State's defense created five turnovers, including a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown by C.J. Wilson, to help the Wolfpack improve to 2-0 for the first time in Tom O'Brien's four years at the school.
"That was a heck of a win for our team," O'Brien said. "A couple of big, big turnovers were the difference in the game, but it's always that way. Turnovers and penalties decide games."
N.C. State had only 239 yards total offense, including just 79 in the second half, but the Wolfpack were efficient. They didn't turn the ball over and converted two takeaways into touchdowns.
Dean Haynes scored from 4 yards out after an interception and Mustafa Greene had a 21-yard scoring run after a fumble recovery. Quarterback Russell Wilson hit Darrell Davis with a 26-yard scoring pass to finish off an 83-yard scoring drive, the Wolfpack's only real offense of the night.
UCF dropped to 1-1 this season, but came away with mixed feelings about their first loss. The Knights gave away three interceptions and two fumbles including a crucial one in the final minute of the game by sophomore wide receiver Quincy McDuffie at the N.C. State 11-yard line but received a huge spark from backup quarterback Jeff Godfrey.
Godfrey, a true freshman, came on in relief of starter Rob Calabrese in the middle of the third quarter and ran for two touchdowns while also completing seven of 10 passes for 107 yards. He scored on runs of 6 and 1 yards, the second one pulling UCF within 28-21 with 4:29 left in the game.
The Knights got the ball back with 2:47 left and looked to be headed for a tying touchdown before McDuffie fumbled when hit by N.C. State safety Brandan Bishop with just under a minute left in the game. Wolfpack linebacker Terrell Manning fell on the ball and N.C. State ran out the clock.
"I thought we beat ourselves," UCF Coach George O'Leary said. "It was frustrating to see our quarterback run around out there and get flustered by the pressure, but Jeff [Godfrey] did an excellent job overcoming a lack of blocking."
The turnovers helped N.C. State jump out to a 21-0 lead in the middle of the second quarter.
Sophomore Earl Wolff picked off a Calabrese pass and returned it 31 yards to give the Wolfpack possession at the UCF 42. Eight plays later, Haynes burst up the middle from 4 yards out to make it 7-0.
Russell Wilson hit four straight passes for 47 yards on the next N.C. State possession, including a 26-yard scoring pass to Davis. Wilson drew the UCF defense into the middle of the field with a pump fake, then lobbed a perfect strike to a wide open Davis in the right corner of the end zone.
UCF's special teams handed N.C. State another scoring opportunity when blocking back Latavius Murray allowed a punt to bounce off his shin and Wolfpack safety Corey Tedder fell on it at the Knights 20-yard line. On third-and-11, Greene took a draw play 21 yards up the middle for the touchdown that made it 21-0 with 3:26 left in the half.
McDuffie returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for the Knights' lone score of the first half. McDuffie, a Florida high school state champion sprinter, made a sharp cut in the middle of traffic and easily outran the Wolfpack defenders to cut the deficit to 21-7.
Midway through the third quarter, Calabrese badly overthrew Brian Watters and the ball floated right into Wilson's hands. The Wolfpack cornerback avoided Watters, then ran down the sideline behind a wall of blockers to score easily and make it 28-7.