Karmic balance requires this article to exist.
The three major sports, as alluded to in the worst losses story, have actually enjoyed a relatively successful 2000s. Basketball has been to two Sweet Sixteens, and made the tournament in every year not coached by Sidney Lowe since 2002. Baseball has been to a CWS, four Super Regionals and has missed the NCAAs just once (2009) since 2003. Football has been the least successful of the three, but the 11-3 season in 2002 remains one of the best football seasons in NC State history and the Pack has put three quarterbacks in the NFL, as well as the No. 1 overall pick.
That said, here are the best of the best in the last fifteen years.
2005 vs UConn, NCAA Tournament 2nd Round
The Stakes: The first Sweet 16 appearance for NC State since 1989, the cementing of Julius Hodge as a legend.
Why it was Awesome: The game probably shouldn't have come down to the final minute, as the Pack had an 11-point lead with five minutes to play. Even after UConn cut the lead down to one, freshman Andrew Brackman nailed a 3-pointer to theoretically put the game away. But this was NC State basketball, and UConn tied the game with 15 seconds left after a palming violation on the Pack gave the ball back to the Huskies.
But all of this proved just a prelude to the biggest moment of Hodge’s career. The senior, trying desperately to extend his career one more week, drove into a double team and sunk a lay-up with 4.3 seconds remaining. The whistle blew – and for once a call went the Pack’s way as Hodge was given the bucket and the foul (called on Ed Nelson, who beat Hodge for the 2002 ACC Freshman of the Year award when he was at Georgia Tech). The three-point lead was enough to put the Pack in the Sweet 16.
2012 vs Virginia, ACC Tournament Quarterfinals
The Stakes: Precariously sitting on the NCAA bubble, it was a must-win game for the Pack as Gottfried tried to get them back to the tournament in his first year
Why it was Awesome: Not going to lie, really struggled with what to put in this slot. The Pack has had some fun upsets in the last 15 years – beating #1 Duke, Lowe’s first and only win over UNC – but those were all regular season games that ultimately had minimal impact on the success of the season as a whole.
So I ended up going with the game that turned Mark Gottfried’s first season from success to unmitigated excitement. The Pack could have let this game slip away in the final moments – Scott Wood missed a crucial free throw, in fact, to keep UVA’s hopes alive, but Joe Harris missed a three in the final seconds and before you knew it Gottfried was imploring Joey Brackets on national television. The Pack would go on to get an NCAA bid and win two straight games for a Sweet Sixteen berth in its first season under Gottfried.
2003 vs Notre Dame, Gator Bowl
The Stakes: Capping off one of the best seasons in program history with a win in a New Year’s Day bowl over college football’s most popular program.
Why it was Awesome: The game itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Once Thunder Dan (Dantonio Burnette) clocked the Irish starting quarterback near the goal line and sent him home for the day, the Irish offense didn’t really do much. Notre Dame would take a 3-0 lead after the Pack finished its goal-line stand, then Philip Rivers, T.A. McLendon and Jerricho Cotchery would all contribute to the Pack’s twenty-one unanswered points that made the second half essentially a long celebration.
TIE: 2008 at UNC, 2011 vs Maryland
The Stakes: Bragging rights and making Maryland fans cry (that game also clinched bowl eligibility). That’s good enough right?
Why it was Awesome: The first one requires little explanation, as watching Russell Wilson run all over UNC’s much vaunted defense like it was a middle school team is a joy unto itself. And anytime you just run over your rival, especially one who had your number for the better part of the decade to that point, is going to be fun.
The Maryland game makes it for being the most insane comeback I can ever remember seeing, and coming against the Terrapins was just icing on the cake. The Pack was down 41-14 (seriously, 41-14!) with ten minutes left in the third quarter. The Pack would score forty-two unanswered points and win by two scores. Mike Glennon threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the final twenty-one minutes of the game.
2003 vs VCU, Wilson Regional
The Stakes: Keeping the Pack in the winners bracket of the Regional, which it would win the next day in a 14-inning game against Western Carolina to send them to Avent’s first Super Regional (and first ever for State, though I’m assuming here that the Supers didn’t exist until recently).
Why it was Awesome: VCU won forty-six games in 2003 and was a pretty formidable No. 2 seed in the Regional, which State was hosting but Doak was still in the process of renovations so the Pack was unable to play at its real home (as a side note, the Pack played all over NC that season and didn’t play at Doak until April 2nd, even then only playing in a partially renovated stadium, and the press box was a tent behind home plate). It was Avent’s best team – arguably better than his 2013 squad – finishing 45-18 despite the lack of a true home.
Justin Riley – a pretty good catcher/DH – smacked a pitch over the wall in the bottom of the 10th inning for his 17th home run (He didn’t even lead the team that year! Remember when college baseball played like beer league softball?) to give the Pack a walk-off win. Vern Sterry pitched his standard gem, going eight innings and giving up three (again, pre bat change), and Joey Devine pitched the final two innings to get the 4-3 win.
2013 vs Rice, Raleigh Super Regional
The Stakes: Second College World Series berth, first since 1968
Why it was Awesome: This was seventeen innings of nail-biting drama, painful to watch at times until that glorious dog pile at the pitcher’s mound after five hours and a 77-minute rain delay. It was so tense that it was easy to forget that it wasn’t an elimination game – the Pack would have survived another day had they dropped the game but as the innings stretched on it was clear they wouldn’t have much of a pitching staff left if they lost (neither would Rice, though).
Ethan Ogburn delivered a heroic performance out of the bullpen, pitching five scoreless after the rain delay and the Pack ultimately took the lead on a Brett Williams double in the top of the 17th. A few outs later, this was happening (Brett Austin’s reaction is my favorite).
Also considered: 2009 vs UNC (41-10), any other O’Brien game against UNC except the last one. 2002 vs Clemson on Thursday night, one of Amato’s any upsets of FSU. 2012 vs Georgetown and like a couple more I can’t think of currently.