Two of your favorite former Wolfpackers will meet in two weeks on football's biggest stage, as Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawks and Nate Irving's Denver Broncos won their respective conference championships Sunday.
While Wilson doesn't post Peyton Manning's gaudy numbers--Manning threw for an even 400 yards in Denver's 26-16 win over New England--he was remarkably efficient in the face of constant pressure in Seattle's 23-17 win over bitter rival San Francisco. Despite being sacked four times and forced into an intentional grounding penalty, Wilson persevered to complete 16 of 25 passes for 215 yards and a score. His 35-yard scoring strike to Jermaine Kearse illustrated his intelligence and poise, as he took a shot deep when the 49ers jumped offsides, threading what proved to be the game-winning score into a space that didn't seem big enough for a dart, let alone a football.
Colin Kaepernick, Wilson's counterpart, was brilliant early in the game but folded once the Hawks took the lead, losing a fumble and tossing two picks in the final quarter. The second pick, snared by Malcolm Smith after Richard Sherman deflected a pass in the end zone, led to this wonderfully awkward exchange with Erin Andrews:
Richard Sherman (via watchnba201213)
Here's a link to some giffage of Wilson's decisive TD pass which, by the way, came on fourth and seven. That is one impressive 43-yards-through-the-air-into-coverage piece of work right there. Of course Wilson is no stranger to the big play, as he hooked up with Doug Baldwin for 51 yards to set up the first of former Pack kicker Steven Hauschka's three field goals. Wilson finished third in the NFL with a 13.1-yard average per completion. That's nearly a yard better (12.2) than his Super Bowl opponent, Manning, averaged this year en route to breaking the single-season NFL record for passing yards. Maybe they should let Wilson chuck it more often.
Or maybe not, as Wilson has #beastmode at his disposal. Marshawn Lynch became the first back to break 100 yards against the Niners all season, amassing 109 yards on 22 carries. His 40-yard score in the third quarter brought the Hawks all the way back after they had trailed 10-0 early. Former N.C. State defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, who was moved to offense after being drafted by Seattle, pancaked his man on the long run.
There was much less excitement in Denver, where the Patriots remained down by at least two scores for the entire second half. Irving made a nice tackle in space, holding Shane Vereen to a two-yard gain after Tom Brady checked down to him. It was one of two stops Irving made for a Denver defense that held Brady and company to just 320 total yards.
The Super Bowl will feature the aforementioned four former Pack players, a number that is double the combined total from the rest of the ACC's North Carolina schools. UNC's Sylvester Williams, a rookie, appeared in 13 games for the Broncos. Steve Vallos, from Wake Forest, is a reserve offensive lineman for the Broncos, his fifth team in a seven-year career.