Forty seconds remained in the game, and North Carolina State had a fourth down on the Penn State one-yard line. Penn State led 13-6, but North Carolina State had been very close to tying or winning the game throughout the second half. Now all the hopes that North Carolina State had built up during eight straight victories depended on this one final play. One more yard might mean an undefeated season, a high national ranking, a place in the Sugar Bowl. A mistake—in the national view—would leave N.C. State as nothing but a nice Atlantic Coast Conference team that could not quite survive a full campaign and beat top nonconference opposition. By such margins is success measured.
Quarterback Jim Donnan called time out and trotted to the sideline to talk to his coach, Earle Edwards. "Let's give it to Tony on a smash over the middle," said Donnan. "We might as well go back to the play that's done the job all day." Tony Barchuk—the steady halfback—had already carried for 93 yards in the game, but he had also carried 28 times and almost everyone in Penn State's Beaver Stadium was expecting him to try once more.
"I was thinking more of a quick pitch-out, something to surprise them and get outside," Edwards said later. "But when the boys really want to do a certain thing they often execute it better than a play-you give them."
Edwards nodded an O.K. to Donnan, who ran back on the field.
"They had used that play an awful lot," said Dennis Onkotz, the Penn State linebacker. "You didn't have to be too smart to guess that they would use it again." Onkotz happens to be very smart; he is studying nuclear physics and turned down Princeton as well as many other schools in favor of Penn State. He was watching for Barchuk as he lined up. "My first responsibility was to be opposite the flanker," he said. "But as soon as I saw their linemen block toward the inside I rushed over to the middle."
Barchuk took the hand-off and saw Penn State jam up the inside. In a last desperate effort he tried to hurdle the line. Onkotz met him in midair about a foot from the goal, drove him back, and the North Carolina dream came to a jolting end. Pour plays later Punter Tom Cherry gave NCS a safety rather than risk kicking to the dangerous Freddie Combs, and Penn State had a 13-8 win over the team that had been ranked third in the country.
The result was not an upset. While the people who vote in polls looked at North Carolina State's 8-0 record, the men who make their living by gambling inspected unranked Penn State's tough schedule and its unlucky two-point loss to UCLA and they made Penn State a slight favorite. But while many people expected Penn State to win, few thought it would win this kind of game. A young, fast team, which is full of sophomores and is noted mainly for offense, Penn State beat North Carolina State with its defense.
"We have a much better club than people give us credit for," said Quarterback Tom Sherman, "especially on defense. Today our offense did not have one of its better days, but you saw how the defense won the game for us."
The Penn State offense did not start all that badly. By using an unusual three-end formation that accomplished its job of upsetting the N.C. State defense, Sherman was able to drive the team for a touchdown following the opening kick-off. But the offense did not score again. Moments later Onkotz intercepted a pass and returned it 67 yards for a touch-down that made it 13-0, and then the defense—with Onkotz, a 19-year-old sophomore, showing the way—embarked on its successful all-day struggle to protect the lead.
For the losers, the game brought an end to a delirious streak of triumphs over opponents and experts—and to a fine inferiority-complex cure. North Carolina State has always been the most maligned school in its area. Under the state's consolidated university system, the famous University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is known for liberal arts and scholastic achievements; State is geared to agricultural and technical studies. UNC is considered the "Ivy" institution, and poor State is derided as the "cow college."
Nearby North Carolina and Duke rest on lush, attractive sites, but the State campus is a jumble of buildings and parking lots crowded into a section of Raleigh that is divided in half by railroad tracks. In sports State enjoyed a series of good basketball teams under the late Everett Case and produced a few top football players such as Roman Gabriel. But overall, Wolfpack football rarely caused much excitement.
This fall has been different. Edwards had produced fair teams for two years, but they started very slowly. This season, with 17 seniors returning, State got off to a fast start—and the school reacted with rare enthusiasm. In a recent campus election the most pressing issue was a referendum to determine which side of the field students would be allowed to sit on. Even the team mascot, an alleged timberwolf that turned out to be a very docile coyote, has been transformed from a laughing stock into a rallying point, with 1967 being proclaimed the Year of the Kool Kyotie.
The team itself has been cool, winning games with poise and an ability to take advantage of breaks. Students overlooked the lack of speed and spectacular offense, preferring to convince themselves that the defensive players, who all wear white shoes, were leading a team of destiny. The Wolfpack plodded past weak North Carolina and Buffalo in their first two starts, then upset Florida State 20-10 in the game that first showed Edwards he had an unusual team. But the next game was against second-ranked Houston at the Astrodome.
"Everyone made such a big thing of the Astrodome," Edwards said, "that I think it scared some teams before they even got there." So he refused an offer of sample Astroturf to practice on and told his boys it would be just another experience for them. "You should look forward to playing there," he said. "Some day you can tell your grandchildren about it. And, of course, they'll ask you who won the game."
State won 16-6, and the momentum carried them through four of their modest opponents within the ACC. "The Houston game gave us confidence and recognition," said Edwards last week. "But Penn State is certainly the biggest challenge we have faced since then." Claude Gibson, the assistant coach who scouted Penn State, added, "They have so many good athletes that they have kept improving, despite injuries that would have killed our team. And Ted Kwalick, their tight end, may be the best in the country."
It was Kwalick, a 6'3", 222-pound Mike Ditka-type with power and speed, who scored the first touchdown Saturday by making a sensational catch of an 18-yard pass from Sherman. When that was followed up by the Onkotz interception, Penn State had the early lead it badly wanted.
But North Carolina State, which had not been scored on in the first period all year, refused to panic after giving up 13 quick points. The Wolfpack held off three more threats inside their 20-yard line before half time and then took charge of the game in the second half. Penn State gained only eight yards passing and 24 rushing in the last two periods, and North Carolina State seemed to have the ball all the time. Twice the Wolfpack was stopped inside the 10 and settled for field goals by Gerald Warren, the nation's leading kicker.
"When I was 10 years old," Warren says, "I saw Lou Groza on television, and I thought that ain't nothin' I can't do. I've been kicking ever since, and I guess if the pros want me they'll come around." Warren can score from anywhere inside the 40; but now there was not enough time for three more drives into field-goal range. The Wolfpack needed a touchdown. Once runs by Barchuk and Bobby Hall got them to the Penn State 13 but, on second down with short yardage to go, Donnan gambled on a pass over the middle and Penn State Safety Tim Montgomery cut in front of the receiver for an interception.
Still the Kyoties didn't lose their Kool, stopping Penn State and mounting their last drive, which ended when Onkotz met Barchuk head to head.
"That Barchuk is quite a guy," said Onkotz afterward. "Several times when I tackled him he said, 'Way to hit.' "
"Do you think you earned a chance at a bowl by this win?" Onkotz was asked.
"All we were thinking about today," said Onkotz, "was that the guys we were playing were supposed to be a Sugar Bowl team."