ERALEIGH, N.C. — Third-ranked Florida State spent the first half looking every bit like the team picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, from a dominating defense to a running game that kept moving the chains to silence a hostile crowd.
Then North Carolina State figured out a way to shake up the race for both the conference and national championship.
Mike Glennon found Bryan Underwood for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, helping the Wolfpack rally to beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Saturday night.
On a night when the Seminoles (5-1, 2-1 ACC) appeared poised to strengthen their grip on their division, they instead found themselves struggling to figure out how N.C. State (4-2, 1-1) had turned the game around and possibly ended FSU’s hopes of contending for a BCS title.
“We still control our own destiny in the ACC,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We have to refocus and not let this loss become two in a row. We let this one slip away from us.”
Florida State — carrying its highest ranking since 2003 — led 16-0 at halftime, but couldn’t stop Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon in the fourth quarter and watched this one slip away in stunning fashion.
“We weren’t coming in thinking that we were David and they were Goliath or anything,” Wolfpack center Camden Wentz said. “We’ve beaten this team before. They’re a great football team. We weren’t coming in not sure if we could win or not. … At the end, it went our way.”
The Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1) inched closer after halftime before coming up with a game-turning blocked punt by Mike Rose with 2:27 left, giving the ball back to Glennon at the FSU 43 with a chance to complete the comeback.
Glennon marched the Wolfpack down the field and completed three fourth-down passes, including two inside the 15. The drive ended when he found Underwood alone over the middle — a step or two into the end zone — to tie the game, allowing the Wolfpack to take the lead on the ensuing point-after kick.
Not bad for a team that committed 14 penalties, coughed up six turnovers and gave up the go-ahead touchdown pass in a 44-37 loss at Miami last weekend.
“It was a dream come true to be honest,” Underwood said. “We’d been working hard all week after last week. We just wanted to come out and fight. We just hung in there and played as a team, that’s all it was.”
FSU drove near midfield in the final seconds, but the Wolfpack defense knocked down EJ Manuel’s desperation heave near the goal line to end it. The play sent the Wolfpack players spilling onto the field in celebration.
“This is not the end of the world for us,” FSU receiver Rashad Greene said. “We know what we have in this locker room and we will move on from this loss.”
It marked the second straight year the Wolfpack had beaten a highly ranked division rival here. Last season, the Wolfpack upset No. 7 Clemson 37-13 for the program’s first win against a top-10 team under Tom O’Brien.
This game marked the first time a top-five team had come to Carter-Finley Stadium since 1998. And just as in that game, unranked N.C. State upset the Seminoles, who were ranked No. 2 at the time.
“This is as good as it gets,” Glennon said.
The win also changed the race in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The Seminoles had already beaten Clemson at home, so a win at N.C. State would’ve given them victories against the two teams projected to be their biggest challengers for the division crown.
FSU hosts Boston College next weekend.
As for N.C. State, the Wolfpack knew this was probably their last chance to stay in the division race.
N.C. State never led until Glennon’s late pass and Niklas Sade’s PAT. N.C. State had just 68 yards and four first downs in the first half, with the Seminoles using a short touchdown pass from Manuel and three field goals from Dustin Hopkins to take the 16-0 lead.
But the FSU team that was in such control going into the locker room isn’t the one that came out for the second half.
Chris Thompson ran for 115 of his 141 yards in the first half for the Seminoles, while Manuel threw for 218 yards with an interception. Florida State managed just 122 yards after halftime and squandered all three of their timeouts, which proved crucial once the Wolfpack finally pushed in front.
Glennon threw for 259 yards on 30-for-55 passing with two touchdowns, the first being a 24-yard scoring pass to Shadrach Thornton that brought the Wolfpack within 16-10 with 13:47 to play. Then, after Rose’s blocked punt, Glennon calmly moved N.C. State into striking range with a 12-yard pass to Quintin Payton on fourth-and-10 that gave N.C. State a first-and-goal at the 2 with 1:07 left.
Then he hit Underwood for touchdown that helped change the direction of the season in the ACC and beyond.