Wolfpack's stout defense keeps Bulls penned in
Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Chuck Amato darted right, then danced left, successfully missing the bucket of water his victorious North Carolina State players tried to dump on him.
Minutes later, as Amato tried to accept the Meineke Car Care Bowl trophy, the coach finally ran out of moves and received a chilly dousing down his back.
It was the relief he was looking for after a trying up-and-down season.
The Wolfpack used stout defense and just enough offense to cap a late-season rally with a 14-0 victory over South Florida on Saturday that gave them a three-game winning streak to close the year.
"This might be one of the biggest wins, when its all said and done, that this university could have had," Amato said. "It could be the steppingstone for a lot of things."
Amato may be overstating it just a bit, but the victory did pick up a program that was 2-4 midway through the year and in danger of one of the worst seasons in school history. Instead, the Wolfpack (7-5) turned it around with five wins in the final six games.
"For us to come here, win like we did and shut them out ... it settles it down a little bit," said defensive end Mario Williams, who indicated he'll likely go out on top by declaring for the NFL draft sometime next week.
Brian Clark caught a 9-yard touchdown pass and Andre Brown scored on a 1-yard run as the Wolfpack did all their scoring in the second quarter then held on to hand South Florida (6-6) its first shutout in school history.
It was a disappointing end for the upstart Bulls, who were playing in their first bowl in school history. They launched their program nine years ago, moved up to Division I-A in 2001 and capped their first season in the Big East with a bowl bid.
But their 100th game didn't turn out the way they hoped.
"I don't want South Florida to be 'We just did this. We just did that.' That's baloney," coach Jim Leavitt said. "We want to win football games. I get disgusted when we lose and we came here to win."
Although the Bulls managed 295 yards total offense, they failed to get Andre Hall - the Big East's leading rusher - into the end zone. Hall accounted for most of the offense, finishing with 118 yards rushing and two catches for 49 yards.
"Everyone is still kind of happy we came, but we lost," Hall said. "It's out first bowl game. It was a long week. We didn't get as much rest as we thought we would. Coaches tried to warn us, but we're still young.
"We had a good season. We went to a bowl game, ended up 6-6. It's OK. We'll be all right."
Credit the Wolfpack defense, particularly linebacker Stephen Tulloch, for stifling South Florida. Tulloch finished with 15 tackles - five for a loss - three sacks and a recovery of his own forced fumble to earn the MVP award.
"Their running back is amazing, he's one of the better running backs we've seen this season," Tulloch said. "It wasn't an easy task at all to pitch a shutout to end a hard season. I'm just glad we did it."
Neither team played particularly well on offense or special teams, with a combined three missed field goals, a South Florida blocked punt, four fumbles and an interception in the end zone to end one of the Bulls' rare scoring threats.
So N.C. State got all it needed with its two touchdowns, both in the second quarter.
Toney Baker set up the first score with runs of 22 and 14 yards, allowing Marcus Stone to find Clark in the end zone. The Wolfpack actually ran the same play twice, with Clark making the first catch out of bounds before grabbing it the second time for the score.
Baker used a ton of short runs to set up the second score, then gave way to Brown for the touchdown. Baker finished with 93 yards rushing on 22 carries, while Brown had 51 yards on 12 carries.
South Florida spent the entire game just trying to get into the end zone, and had a great chance when Hall broke free for a 41-yard gain to put the Bulls in decent scoring range at the N.C. State 17.
But three bizarre play calls - a run by seldom-used Ricky Ponton, followed by two bad passes - ended the threat when Garland Heath intercepted Pat Julmiste in the end zone. It was a trend South Florida followed the entire game, trying to add variation to an offense that really only has one weapon in Hall.
Still, Leavitt never counted the Bulls out.
"I thought with 4 minutes left we would win the game," he said. "Maybe I am silly, but I thought we would score and get an onside kick and then go in and win it."
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