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Rich Waltz, NC State, and the beginning of fandom

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Torry Holt #81

Rich Waltz will be the play-by-play guy on Saturday night when NC State takes on Marshall. Waltz has called a lot of games over the years, but the one that immediately comes to mind any time I see his name is the 1997 NC State-Syracuse game.

The game itself, unfortunately, seems lost to history, but the ending, and Waltz’s call, which is seared into my brain, is here in this video:

“Got it! Wolfpack win the ballgame in overtime! Torry Holt!”

It’s difficult to explain now what that game meant then. NC State was coming off back-to-back three-win seasons. Syracuse was nationally relevant (kids, ask your parents) and had a Heisman-candidate quarterback in Donovan McNabb. (Ask your Philadelphia-based cousins?)

NC State wasn’t supposed to have any business winning this game, and Syracuse scored on a long touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. The Wolfpack played from behind all afternoon, setting up a rousing fourth quarter. The recap doesn’t do it justice.

The bottom line summary is this: Syracuse had the ball inside the five, with the score tied, needing only to set up for a short game-winning field goal as time expired. Instead of taking a knee, the Orange handed the ball off, and it was stripped and recovered by Tony Scott at the goal line (this play is also in the above video), which forced overtime.

Syracuse quickly scored a TD in that first OT, and State answered, but instead of kicking the game-tying extra point, State went for two. Syracuse was caught embarrassingly off guard by this, and as then-Cuse coach Paul Pasqualoni furiously tried to call for a timeout from the sideline, the ball was snapped, and Jamie Barnette hit a wide open Torry Holt, delivering a massive opening-weekend upset in the process.

I was a freshman in high school at that point and that was really the first year I paid serious attention to NC State sports, and this game happened to be a hell of an introduction. So it has a significant nostalgic value to me, as does Waltz’s call of that decisive play.

It was an incredible game capped by a great call to go for two, on the road, against a top-20 opponent, way before anybody knew anything about win probability or proper underdog tactics. Mike O’Cain may have been coaching from his gut there, but his gut happened to make the most efficient call possible. That happens sometimes, and it’s free money when it works out. Also it’s glorious and exhilarating.

That game, and Torry Holt’s presence, extended O’Cain’s NC State tenure for several years, and those years largely were filled with disappointment. But that game also marked a welcome revitalization of NC State football, relatively speaking, in that we could expect State to compete as long as Jamie Barnette and Torry Holt were on the field.

And, man, I was hooked.