Sunday, September 7, 2003

Wake Forest stuns No. 14 Wolfpack

Ohio State's next opponent: North Carolina State

By Jenna Fryer
The Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Philip Rivers swears No. 14 North Carolina State wasn't looking past Wake Forest to a showdown at No. 2 Ohio State. Maybe not, but there had to be some sort of excuse after Wake Forest stunned the Wolfpack 38-24 on Saturday.

"I thought we were ready for Wake," said Rivers, who threw for three touchdowns and a career-high 433 yards passing in the loss. "There was a lot of hype that we wouldn't be, but we were. We can make a ton of excuses, but the bottom line is we are a good enough football team that we should have won this game."

Wake Forest (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) thought otherwise, jumping on N.C. State (1-1, 0-1) early and building a 25-point first half lead that put the Wolfpack on their heels.

"We knew that they might have come in unfocused and looking ahead to Ohio State," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "That challenged our guys."

Rivers made every effort to bring N.C. State back, but came up too late with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

He went 38-of-49, but was also intercepted twice. Still, he now has 9,746 career yards passing to move ahead of Jamie Barnette on N.C. State's all-time list.

As soon as the game was over, Rivers was already focused on next week's showdown with the Buckeyes.

"We better get ready to go because we can't throw it into the tank," he said. "If we do, it will be a long day next week at Ohio State."

While the Wolfpack was scratching their heads over the loss, the Demon Deacons were celebrating an upset that drove their small student section onto the field in a failed attempt to tear down a goalpost.

Celebrating big football wins doesn't come naturally at Wake Forest, an academic school known best for a basketball team that occasionally tops the ACC. But beating a league powerhouse in football? Not supposed to happen.

"We came out and played hard and got the victory," said receiver Willie Idlette, who scored on a 50-yard punt return. "Hopefully the quad will be white with toilet paper."

Chris Barclay scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, Nick Burney added two scores and Cornelius Birgs scored on a 16-yard run as Wake Forest scored four rushing touchdowns while gaining 202 yards on the ground.

All told, the Deacons had just 375 yards total offense but made few mistakes with just two penalties.

N.C. State, meanwhile, racked up 511 total yards and had little trouble moving the ball. But penalties were crippling - the Wolfpack had 10 for 90 yards - and Rivers' two interceptions were costly.

"Stats are for losers and I'm the loser this week," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. "Ten penalties and two turnovers, that's why we lost. The only numbers that matter now are 2-0, and that's what Wake Forest is."

Rivers opened the fourth quarter with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cotra Jackson and was driving N.C. State midway through the period until mistakes finally crippled the Wolfpack comeback.

N.C. State was hit with two personal fouls and a pass interference call in the fourth. It put Rivers in a fourth-and-30 situation late in the game, and his pass was broken up.

The Deacons took over and capped their upset with Birgs' touchdown run that made it 38-17 with 4:41 to play.

Wake Forest's Cory Randolph, a sophomore and the only rookie quarterback in the ACC this season, went 8-of-10 for 131 yards and played mistake-free football.

"He knew he had to step up and rise to the occasion," receiver Jason Anderson said. "He's a great quarterback, and he knows where to put the ball."

Barclay ran for 90 of Wake's 202 yards rushing and Burney added 35.

Jerricho Cotchery led N.C. State with nine catches for 173 yards and one touchdown. But he had to team with Rivers to carry an offense with running back T.A McLendon (knee) and receiver Sterling Hicks (broken hand) in street clothes as last-minute injury scratches.

The McLendon injury was bizarre, with Amato not even knowing about it until late in the week after McLendon apparently fell in the team lounge.

"He seemed fine, but then Wednesday night he felt really bad. He could hardly walk," Amato said. "We didn't have Sterling Hicks, either, but we have no excuses. We put 11 players on the field, but it came down to heart and they had more today."

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