NC State still in control of ACC Atlantic race

North Carolina State’s players and coaches believed they had let

a golden opportunity slip away when they lost at Clemson.

By the time they returned to campus, they felt rejuvenated.

Thanks to Maryland’s loss to Miami and Florida State’s loss to

North Carolina, the Wolfpack maintained control of the Atlantic

Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division. If N.C. State (6-3, 3-2) wins

its remaining three games, it will play in the ACC championship

game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.

”It’s ‘Groundhog Day,”’ N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said

Monday. ”We wake up, and we’re where we started last week. We’ll

see if we can finish it off and do a better job this time.

”As I told the team, you hear coaches say it all the time that

you don’t get a second chance on the football field. But we got a

second chance, and we have to make the most of it this time because

there is no margin for error now.”

The Wolfpack’s second chance begins Saturday with a matchup

against Wake Forest (2-7, 1-5), which has lost seven consecutive

games. The game is homecoming for N.C. State and also the final

home appearance for the team’s seniors.

N.C. State’s players have an extra bounce in their step this

week after a favor from the rival Tar Heels. Knowing that Miami

already had handed Maryland its second league loss, the Wolfpack

constantly checked the North Carolina-Florida State score on their

cell phones while riding the bus back from the airport on the way

home from Clemson.

When Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins’ 40-yard field-goal try

sailed wide right with 2 seconds remaining, N.C. State’s players

celebrated with just as much excitement as North Carolina’s.

”We all went nuts,” left tackle Jake Vermiglio said. ”That

was the first time I think any of us have ever rooted for UNC. That

was crazy.”

The Wolfpack would rather win their own games the rest of the

way, but they’ll have to do so without their kicker. Josh

Czajkowski will miss the rest of the regular season with a

hamstring injury.

O’Brien said Czajkowski was hurt in the fourth quarter of the

14-13 Clemson loss during Marcus Gilchrist’s 76-yard kickoff

return.

Czajkowski made 2-of-3 field-goal attempts and an extra point in

the game. He’s 14 of 18 on field goals this season and has hit all

but one of his 34 extra-point attempts.

OBrien said two players will compete for the job: freshman Chris

Hawthorne and junior J. Ellis Flint.

”We have to make the most of it,” O’Brien said. ”Everybody

else is going to have to pick up the slack and do a better job. The

team will rally around whoever the kicker is, and I’m sure he’ll do

a good job for us.”