September 6, 2004 RALEIGH As the media clamored to see who could get the first words out of Jay Davis' mouth, or to get a quick nugget from either Darrell Blackman or Bobby Washington, two old hands were sitting almost alone in the Wolfpack interview room: safety Marcus Hudson and offensive tackle Chris Colmer.
State had just completed its 42-0 rout of Division I-AA Richmond, which came as no shock to anyone. Davis played well in his debut as The Guy Who Followed Philip Rivers, and redshirt freshman Marcus Stone had decent numbers as well after taking over in the second half, even if the Wolfpack did score only seven points after intermission.
Blackman and Washington, true freshmen with prep All-American pedigrees, were impressive at times, but they weren't exactly game-breakers. They will need to be bigger threats the next time the Wolfpack plays, on Sept. 18 against Ohio State.
Neither Colmer nor Hudson played at all last season, Colmer for health reasons and Hudson for academic and/or disciplinary reasons. Both suffered through some depression at this time last year, as they watched their teammates begin a season of high expectations and watched, just as disappointed as everyone else, as those expectations faded into an 8-5 finish and yet another 4-4 record in the ACC.
"The lowest point was this exact time last year," Hudson said. "That's when it really hit me that I wouldn't be playing for a whole season. That's when reality kicked in."
But the Richmond game helped make some amends for that. Hudson, a converted cornerback, recovered a blocked kick in the end zone for the second touchdown of his college career. (The other was a 100-yard interception return against Duke in 2001.) Later in the game, Hudson intercepted a pass that ended Richmond's biggest threat. It was the fifth pick of his career.
Colmer admitted he was nervous before playing for the first time since the Wolfpack's victory over Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. Luckily, his old buddy Philip Rivers kept calling him on Friday and Saturday before the game, taking his mind off his return to action with sheer annoyance.
"I think he really wanted to be here," Colmer said. "I told him that he might not have gotten in the game if he was still playing, because of the way Jay played."
Davis, who fought through his own butterflies, was above-average in his debut, completing 16 of 22 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. He missed badly a couple of times, especially when he tried to throw the ball downfield. But his last pass of the night, at the end of a flawlessly executed one-minute drill, was a perfect throw to wideout Brian Clark for a score. Davis said he never really got over his nerves, though.
"I was just as excited and worried on the last pass that I threw," Davis said.
While junior Tramain Hall and sophomore Lamart Barrett shared the team lead with six receptions each, the Wolfpack also was pleased to see the return of yet another player who saw limited action last year. Junior Sterling Hicks, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Wake Forest and sat out as a medical redshirt, caught three passes for 35 yards, proving that he still can be a productive member of a deep receiving corps.
Defensively, the Wolfpack managed to preserve its shutout, making this the fifth time in the last six years that State has held at least one team scoreless. Last year, when the Pack had one of the worst defenses in the ACC, was the only time since 1998 that every opponent scored on the NCSU defense.
That's just a tangible way in which the defense has improved. Even though Richmond was a I-AA opponent, Spiders quarterback Stacy Tutt was a slippery fellow who broke loose a couple of times for double-digit gains. He ended up as Richmond's top rusher, with 30 yards, but he and the rest of the Spiders were pretty well contained.
The defense allowed Tutt to complete only 10 of his 26 passes for 63 yards. The Pack sacked him twice, showing that its undersized but super-fast defensive front may create the same kind of havoc it did two years ago, when State led the ACC with 48 sacks.
Amato liked what he saw, but he knows his team's next opponent, No. 9 Ohio State, might be just a little tougher to stop than the Spiders.
"We have to tackle better," Amato said. "We have to stop the run better. If we don't do those things, then that game we have in about 14 days might be awfully long for us."
Football Parties Out Of Control?
Now that two more people have died amidst the backdrop of an N.C. State football game, it's time for the school, Wake County and perhaps the state of North Carolina to take a look at the alcohol policies that govern pre-game and post-game parties at Carter-Finley Stadium.
On the surface, the parking lots around the stadium and at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds are the perfect place for fans and families to gather before games to socialize and get ready for games.
But those same lots have long been known as the ultimate party destination, especially alluring for some of the guys on the many military bases around the state. In fact, one of the two people who were killed in the shooting incident just after the N.C. State-Richmond kickoff was an active duty Marine junior officer.
The two shooting suspects, one of whom was an N.C. State student, clearly were intoxicated, according to witnesses. They were chastised about an hour earlier for driving too fast through the parking lots. One of the suspected shooters actually was pulled from the car and beaten, allegedly by the shooting victims, about an hour before the shooting.
When the suspects brothers Tony Harold Johnson, 20, and Timothy Wayne Johnson, 22 returned, the unidentified shooter asked where the two people who beat him up were. A witness pointed them out, and the shooter allegedly said, "I have a .38 Smith & Wesson for them." One of the victims was shot in the face and died at the scene. The other was shot in the neck and died on the operating table at a local hospital.
Alarmingly, this adds up to eight dead people in the last three Wolfpack games at Carter-Finley. Last November, six people died when a drunken driver plowed into the scene of an earlier accident. The driver had not been at the N.C. State-Virginia football game, but five of the six victims had, and police suspected that alcohol played a role in the initial accident, in which a driver ran a stop sign.
NCSU could take the same steps taken by UNC, which for several years has banned alcohol consumption at pre-game parties on campus. (Enforcement is inconsistent, but the rules often give officials an opportunity to deter potentially problematic fans.) A similar approach probably wouldn't sit well with the N.C. State supporters who for years have partied in the parking lots before, during and after games. Indeed, it may be extreme, since Carter-Finley Stadium is not on campus and does offer patrons wide-open spaces to set up elaborate tailgates.
But even with late-starting games the N.C. State-Richmond contest began at 6 p.m. fans tend to arrive early in the day. Many drink themselves into oblivion well before kickoff. The school officially has ended the policy that allowed fans to leave the stadium at halftime and re-enter for the second half, which met with strenuous objection from older fans who believed that right came in the same package as their diploma.
So what the school should consider as it did when things began to get out of hand in the late 1980s, when fights before, during and after a couple of N.C. State-East Carolina games led to a brief cancellation of the series between the two rivals is limiting access to the tailgating lots. It would create a traffic nightmare if lots weren't open until two hours before the game, but such a restriction likely would cut down on much of the excessive pre-game partying.
Another thing that might be considered is limiting parties to people who have tickets to the event. That would cut down on the number of out-of-town partiers who have no intention of attending the game. The shooting at the State-Richmond game happened about 20 minutes after the scheduled kickoff.
Those policies would infuriate some die-hard tailgaters and might damage the party reputation of the school. But, after reading about fatalities surrounding two of its last three home games, the school should be more interested in ensuring the safety of its patrons.