BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Fitting that Rutgers would end the 2008 season with a come-from-behind win.
After winning only one of their first six games, Mike Teel and the Scarlet Knights erased an 11-point second half deficit to defeat North Carolina State 29-23 in the Papajohns.com Bowl on Monday.
“As the whole year went, we were able to fight through adversity and stick to it, stick to the plan,” coach Greg Schiano said. “This game was very much indicative of our season. They stuck with it. You make your own breaks, and they did.”
Leading the comeback – as he did all season – was Teel, who passed for 319 yards and two touchdowns, including a 42-yard scoring toss to Kenny Britt to give the Scarlet Knights (8-5) the lead for good in the fourth quarter.
“We knew that somehow someway, we could get out of that hole. You looked around that locker room, there wasn’t one ounce of panic or doubt,” Teel said. “It was just a matter of continuing to do what we’ve done to get us into this position.”
Teel’s pass to Britt with 8:30 to play proved to be the winning touchdown. Britt, a third-team All-American, made a juggling catch as he crossed the goal line and finished with six catches for 119 yards.
Teel, a senior, was the game’s most valuable player. He ended his career on a seven-game winning streak after being booed at home when he was struggling earlier in the season.
Schiano said he didn’t have to give his team much of a pep talk at the half.
“I had to say very little about what we were going to do in the second half. Our seniors stepped up, really throughout the game. It was probably the most relaxed I’ve seen our guys as far as just playing football,” Schiano said.
NC State (6-7) held a 17-6 halftime, led by quarterback Russell Wilson who was 11-for-23 for 186 yards and a score. But Wilson left the game with a strained knee late in the first half and did not return.
His replacements were mostly ineffective and threw three interceptions to aid the Rutgers comeback. Wilson threw one interception all season.
North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien said doctors recommended that Wilson not play in the second half.
“There’s no politicking when the doctor recommends you don’t play,” O’Brien said.
But O’Brien would not blame the loss on the injury.
“You can’t blame it on injuries. We had our opportunities in the third quarter and couldn’t seem to make a play,” O’Brien said.
The Scarlet Knights scored 10 consecutive points in the third quarter on a 31-yard field goal by San San Te and an 11-yard pass from Teel to Tiquan Underwood.
Rutgers took a 19-17 lead with 13:31 to play on a 28-yard field by Te after a 10-play 70-yard drive.
The Wolfpack came right back as reserve quarterback Daniel Evans drove them 64 yards in eight plays and hit Anthony Hill with a 16-yard touchdown pass to give NC State a 23-19 lead.
But it was only two plays later when Teel hit Britt for the go-ahead score.
Rutgers got off to a fast start as cornerback Jason McCourty recovered a Wolfpack fumble on the first play from scrimmage. On the next play, Teel hit Underwood with a 22-yard pass and the Scarlet Knights drove to the NC State 6, where they lined up for a field goal.
The holder on the play, Rob Cervini, picked up the ball after the snap and scampered for the touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked and Rutgers held an early 6-0 lead.
It was Cervini’s first play of his career.
“We had worked a lot on the fake and felt highly confident that it would work. It’s unique that on his first play in a varsity game he scores a touchdown. That’s pretty neat for him, and for us, too,” Schiano said.
But the Wolfpack dominated the rest of the first half behind Wilson passing and running. He had 46 yards rushing on eight carries before spraining his knee.
North Carolina State took the lead with 7:56 to play in the first quarter when Wilson completed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Owen Spencer, who broke free over the middle.
The Wolfpack stretched the lead to 10-6 on a 33-yard Josh Crajkowski field goal late in the first quarter. NC State finished the first half with a 13-play 80-yard drive that was capped with a 5-yard touchdown run by Andre Brown with 38 seconds to play in the half.
NC State turned the ball over four times, including one lost fumble and the three second-half interceptions.
“We certainly didn’t play what we feel is our best game, but we played hard and overcame some things,” O’Brien said.