RALEIGH, N.C., NOV. 21 -- Last week it was two touchdowns in the game's final three minutes. This week it was an end zone interception by redshirt freshman Keith McMeans with 3:58 to play and subsequent third-down passes from senior Scott Secules to juniors John Ford and Tim Finkelston.

Call them The Cardiac Cavs, whatever. They are the University of Virginia football team and they defeated North Carolina State, 34-31, today before 35,200 at cold and windy Carter-Finley Stadium.

They are 7-4 overall and in second-place in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 5-2, their best ACC record ever. And, most important, they are headed for the All American Bowl Dec. 22 in Birmingham.

It will be the second bowl appearance in 99 years of football for Virginia, which won the Peach Bowl in 1984. The Virginia athletic ticket office in University Hall will begin accepting All American ticket orders Monday at 9 a.m.

"The All American Bowl people wanted an exciting game, didn't they?" said senior wide receiver Keith Mattioli from Chantilly High School, whose nine-yard touchdown reception with 30 seconds remaining gave Virginia a 20-17 victory last week against North Carolina.

Not this exciting. At least not today.

"I was doing a little walking there in the fourth quarter," said Miller Gorrie, president of the All American Bowl.

You see, All American Bowl officials said last week they planned to invite the Cavaliers whether they won or lost today. And the Cavaliers had said that they planned to accept whether they won or lost today.

"Yeah, but if I had gone to a bowl game 6-5, I'd feel embarrassed," said senior defensive end Sean Scott, a former All-Met out of Mount Vernon High School. "Winning today makes a lot of difference."

And what was the difference in Virginia's ability to make that difference? Like last week, there are lots of choices.

Was it the 24-0 lead the Cavaliers took before the game was 17 minutes old? The Wolfpack (4-7, 4-3) did its part in that, turning the ball over four of the first five times it touched the ball, including a fumbled kickoff.

Was it McMeans and his third interception of the day and ninth of the year -- a diving stab of a pass seemingly destined for Charles Davenport and a go-ahead touchdown on a first down and 10 at Virginia's 18-yard line? He and the rest of the Cavaliers secondary survived Shane Montgomery's second 400-yard performance in as many weeks. The sophomore, who was 29 of 46 for 468 yards last week, was 30 of 54 for 402 yards and three touchdowns today while the Wolfpack was rushing for a net total of 18 yards on 22 carries.

Was it Secules and his clutch third-down passing? He overcame fumbling on Virginia's first third-quarter possession, throwing an interception on its first possession of the fourth quarter and seeing one of his running backs fumble away a handoff on its second.

Was it Ford and the 14-yard reception he made on a third and 10 from Virginia's 20 with 3:13 to play? His 10-yard touchown reception and 44-yard touchdown run on a reverse 17 seconds later had given the Cavaliers that 24-0 lead. His 32-yard reception set up a field goal that gave Virginia a 34-17 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter.

Was it Finkelston and the 14-yard reception he made on a third and 10 from Virginia's 46 with two minutes left? His 24-yard punt return set up the touchdown pass to Ford and his 14-yard touchdown reception gave Virginia a 31-17 lead.

Or was it something else?

"Maybe we've been blessed the last two weeks," Mattioli said. "We just didn't think we could lose. There we were doing everything we can to lose and we just knew something was going to happen."

Said Finkelston: "Last year, people accused us of maybe giving up at the end of a couple of games. I don't know if that happened, but I know that this year, this is a totally different team. Nobody gives up. Ever."

It's a good thing, too.

"When we got ahead, 24-0," Mattioli said, "everybody on the sidelines was saying, 'What the hell, who do we play in Birmingham?' "

Despite possessing the ball for just 4:41 of the second quarter, the Wolfpack was able to go into halftime trailing by just 24-17.

To that point Montgomery was 16 of 31 for 243 yards.

Then, after giving the ball up on downs at Virginia's 27 with the score 34-17, Mike Jones blindsided Secules, causing a fumble that Kent Winstead recovered at Virginia's 9. Two plays later it was 34-24.

Secules moved the Cavaliers from their 20 to the Wolfpack 48. But then, under pressure, he hit safety Chris Johnson in the midsection with a pop pass intended for tight end Bruce McGonnigal. Johnson returned the interception 40 yards to Virginia's 19. Five plays later it was 34-31.

"Execution in critical situations," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "That's how you win games like this. If we don't do that today, we lose."

Virginia 10 14 10 0 34 N. Carolina St. 0 17 7 7 31

V -- Greggs 1 run (Inderlied kick)

V -- FG Inderlied 35

V -- Ford 10 pass from Secules (Inderlied kick)

V -- Ford 44 run (Inderlied kick)

NCS -- Harrell 20 pass from Montgomery (Carter kick)

NCS -- Fisher 15 pass from Montgomery (Carter kick)

NCS -- FG Carter 23

V -- Finkelston 14 pass from Secules (Inderlied kick)

V -- FG Inderlied 27

NCS -- Harrell 8 pass from Montgomery (Carter kick)

NCS -- Crumpler 1 run (Carter kick)

A -- 35,200.

Virginia N.C.St. First downs 25 23 Rushes-yards 59-164 22-18 Passing yards 269 402 Return yards 24 46 Passing 20-36-1 30-54-4 Punts-average 5-30 3-48 Fumbles-lost 3-2 4-2 Penalties-yards 3-40 4-28 Tim

RUSHING -- Virginia: M. Wilson 21-64, Greggs 15-57. N. Carolina St.: Crumpler 9-27.

PASSING -- Virginia: Secules 20-36-1, 269. N. Carolina St.: Montgomery 30-54-4, 402.

RECEIVING -- Virginia: Finkelston 6-79, Ford 4-68. N.C. St.: M. Jones 7-130, Corders 8-130, Harrell 7-66.