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SHOCKER BEGAN AS A NIGHTMARE, ENDED AS DREAM
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SHOCKER BEGAN AS A NIGHTMARE, ENDED AS DREAM

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Time stood still at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday as N.C. State stood college football on its head.

Mike O'Cain didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Bobby Bowden was smiling, and he didn't know why.The miracle that was the Pack's 24-7 win over Florida State began like a nightmare and ended like a dream. In fact, it never really ended.

There are still 20 seconds left in the game.

Grown men cried, and grown women did things grown women don't normally do. Students swarmed the field and then began taking various pieces of the field back to campus. O'Cain wasn't sure what to do. The State coach tried running, but he almost fell down from a calf injury he suffered at some point during the game. He tried to hug players, but they kept being lifted off their feet and carried away.

Across the way, the Florida State coach stood and stared at the sea of red before him. Bowden parted the red sea with help from state troopers, shook O'Cain's hand and walked away in shock.

``I thought we would win,' Bowden said. ``I thought we would win pretty good.'

A lot of people assumed Florida State would win Saturday. The Seminoles came in ranked second in the country, having scored 176 points in their last three games against N.C. State. They came in favored by anywhere from three touchdowns to 70 points, depending on which expert you listened to.

They came into Carter-Finley Stadium having won 47 of 48 games against ACC opponents, and no one gave State a dog's chance of changing that.

O'Cain mentioned that long after he had limped off the field, long after the State band had cranked up ``The Red and White' fight song for the 500th time, long after people who had secretly criticized him and called for his head a year ago embraced him and slapped him on the back and told him they were behind him all the way.

And then someone asked him about the ACC championship and asked about Torry Holt's Heisman Trophy chances.

Such are the spoils of a miracle victory.

O'Cain didn't see the oranges being thrown into the field, a ritual generally reserved for November victories. Saturday's September shocker left Raleigh delirious and left college football in a state of dementia. If N.C. State is better than Florida State, then anything's possible.

The Pack beat the fool out of the Noles on Saturday. Unheralded N.C. State took FSU's best shot to open the game, then spent the rest of the day torturing the second-ranked team in the country.

``I never thought they'd beat us like that,' Bowden said.

In the end, FSU surrendered. State quarterback Jamie Barnette kneeled to the ground with 20 seconds to play, and the teams shook hands. The clock stopped, and thousands of fans ran onto the field. O'Cain stood still for a second and looked out over the celebration.

``I don't know what I was thinking,' O'Cain said. ``I was thinking that it's been a long time.'

A long time ago, N.C. State had one of the best football teams in the country. But this team wasn't supposed to be one of the best teams in the state. They've been playing football here since 1892, and this wasn't supposed to be the biggest game ever (there were thousands of empty seats). It wasn't supposed to be anything like the 1967 showdown at second-ranked Houston or the 1974 showdown with seventh-ranked Penn State. Those games ended in State victories that are now enshrined in the memories of Wolfpack fans.

Saturday's win was bigger. Saturday's win was more shocking. Saturday's game was the biggest Wolfpack fans have ever seen, bigger than any ever played in Carter-Finley, or old Riddick or Pullen Park. It rekindled memories of the Red Terrors, the White Shoes Defense and the pink and blue years before State discovered red and white.

This one will live forever because it never ended. There are still 20 seconds left in the game.

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