North Carolina State, playing without its leading rusher and three first-string offensive linemen, overcame five first-half turnovers and a 13-0 deficit to defeat Virginia, 16-13, at Scott Stadium today and keep the Cavaliers (0-4) winless under new Coach George Welsh.
Wolfpack quarterback Tol Avery came back from a dreadful first half in which he threw three interceptions to lead his team to two second-half touchdowns, completing eight of nine passes in the process.
State's winning touchdown was set up when 5-foot-7 Jeff Bird returned a punt by Jeff Walker 53 yards to the Virginia 20-yard line.
Three plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, tailback Mike Miller scored on an eight-yard run. The extra point attempt was blocked.
Welsh passed up a chance for a tie in the final 76 seconds when he called for a pass instead of a field goal on fourth down and nine at the North Carolina State 16 yard line. It failed.
If he had gone for the field goal, it would have been a 33-yard attempt for Wayne Morrison, who had kicked a 31-yarder and a 20-yarder earlier, but had missed from 40 and 25 yards.
"I don't think there was a choice to be made," said Welsh. "I don't know what a tie does for you. We had a 50-50 chance to complete the pass. The way we were playing, there still would have been a minute left if we had made the field goal, so we probably wouldn't have stopped them anyway."
North Carolina State Coach Monte Kiffin said he would have done the same thing. "It's a gutty call, but the only one to make," he said. "Ties don't mean anything."
The play the Cavaliers ran was a flag pattern to split end Billy Smith. He had already caught seven passes for 128 yards today, but with State's Eric Williams in man-to-man coverage on him this play, he never got open and Wayne Schuchts' pass sailed over both their heads and out of bounds in the end zone.
"We knew they were going to throw so we blitzed and played man coverage," said Williams. "He (Smith) never put much of a move on me and I just ran with him."
After Avery had thrown his third interception of the first half, Kiffin sat him down for two series and went with Ron Laraway. Laraway guided the Wolfpack to a field goal near the end of the half to cut a 13-0 Virginia lead to 13-3.
The Cavaliers had scored on their first possession of the game, going 51 yards in five plays, scoring on a five yard Schuchts to Nick Merrick pass.
Steve Morse's interception of Avery set up one field goal by Morrison and Pat Chester's interception of Avery set up the other.
The Cavaliers failed to capitalize on another interception by Chester that gave them the ball at State's 35-yard line. They also failed to take advantage of two fumble recoveries, one at the State 45 and the other at the State 44.
"We have field position and opportunities, we just don't score," said Welsh.
State went back to Avery after intermission and he looked more like the Atlantic Coast Conference's second-leading passer than the shaky No. 12 who threw the three first-half interceptions.
"I was forcing the ball in the first half," said Avery. "In the second half I just took what the defense gave me."
The first time the Wolfpack got the ball in the second half, Avery completed four of four passes for 40 yards. The biggest gainer on the drive, however, was a 28-yard pass interference penalty called on Virginia's Darryl Reaves as he tried to defend against David Davis at the goal line.
The penalty gave State a first down at the one and fullback Andre Marks scored two plays later.
State's Joe McIntosh, its leading rusher, missed the game with two hip pointers and Virginia was without its leading rusher, too--Gerald Walker, who has a bad shoulder.
"I guess we missed Walker more than they missed McIntosh," said Welsh.