RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina State hardly has a rivalry with Ohio State. After all, they played for the first time last season.
But what a game it was.
The Buckeyes raced to a big lead, only to have the Wolfpack score 17 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Three extra periods later, after
Ohio State scored a touchdown on its possession, N.C. State tailback T.A. McLendon was stopped inches short of the end zone on fourth down.
Finally, nearly 4½ hours after the opening kickoff, the Buckeyes had their 44-38 victory. One of their best?
"It ranks pretty high," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "I'm sure it was a great game to watch because everyone was going all out, because you
didn't want to make a mistake that would cost you that game."
The Wolfpack get a chance to even the series Saturday, when No. 9 Ohio State (2-0) makes a rare non-conference appearance away from the friendly
confines of Ohio Stadium. This is the Buckeyes' first trip to North Carolina for a football game, and it's their first on the road against a team not
in the Big Ten since 2002.
With the way future schedules are laid out for both teams, it might be the last regular-season matchup for a while.
"It's a big game, it is a huge, huge game," Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato said. "There will be a fanny in every seat, I guarantee you that."
Since Amato took over in 2000, N.C. State is 3-7 against ranked opponents, although all but one of the losses have been by 10 points or less. That
includes heartbreakers last season to Ohio State and Atlantic Coast conference rival Florida State, which slipped by the Wolfpack 50-44 in double
Amato's players believe they can win these types of games now, despite the near misses in 2003. The mentality came from keeping so many of them
"Everybody is believing we can win these kind of games. Now we have to go out and win them," Amato said. "One thing is believing, another thing is
doing. That believing is a big, big step in the right direction."
N.C. State (1-0) had a bye last week after beating Division I-AA Richmond 42-0, and the time off was crucial to allow a couple of injuries to heal.
McLendon and rover Andre Maddox, the leading tackler a year ago, missed the opener with strained hamstrings, and both are listed as probable for
Having Maddox on defense is particularly important for the Wolfpack. They have three sophomore starters on the line -- their backups are freshmen --
and they need all the help they can get against the Buckeyes.
In victories over Cincinnati and Marshall, Ohio State has piled up an average of 433 yards. New quarterback Justin Zwick, who replaced Craig Krenzel,
has completed 57 percent of his passes for 537 yards and four touchdowns.
His solid play down the stretch was a big factor in last week's 24-21 victory over Marshall, when he led the Buckeyes on a final drive to set up a
55-yard field goal by Mike Nugent on the final play.
"I think if you really sit back and reflect on last week's game, things went OK for a while, and then they went sour for a while, and it's usually how
you end that's important," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said of Zwick. "I thought he did an excellent job of handling that."
N.C. State has its own concerns at quarterback. Jay Davis took over for Philip Rivers and had a stellar debut against Richmond, but the competition
this week is a lot tougher. How he handles the pressure might go a long way in determining the outcome.
"He stepped up big time," wide receiver Tramain Hall said of Davis. "He calms everybody down in the huddle. He's ready."