East Carolina completed a remarkable season with a remarkable comeback in the Peach Bowl.
Jeff Blake ran for one touchdown and threw for two more in a 5:54 span of the fourth quarter Wednesday, leading the Pirates to a 37-34 victory over intrastate rival North Carolina State before a record crowd of 59,322.
Blake, who had the best day of his career with 378 yards, four touchdown passes and another rushing, capped the 20-point flurry with a 22-yard scoring pass to Luke Fisher with 1:32 left.
"I was in an option route, the guy slipped off me and I ran it in," said Fisher, who had 12 catches for 144 yards. "My mind went blank. I was just lying in the end zone and heard the fans screaming."
"Blake is a great thrower," N.C. State Coach Dick Sheridan said. "He made it look easy with the decisions he made on the field."
The Pirates (11-1), who ended their best season with an 11-game winning streak after a 38-31 loss to Illinois, withstood a final drive by the Wolfpack (9-3) when Damon Hartman's 49-yard field goal attempt went wide right on the final play of the game.
N.C. State had taken a 34-17 lead when Charles Davenport, who had six catches for 118 yards, caught a 52-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker early in the fourth quarter.
Blake, who passed for 3,073 yards and 28 touchdowns during the regular season, then went to work. "Everybody was scared and worried," Blake said. "That's part of life. But I never gave up."
He scored on a two-yard run with 7:26 left, then got the Pirates within 34-30 with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dion Johnson with 4:18 left. The two-point conversion failed.
Johnson's 27-yard punt return set up the winning drive, during which Blake completed four of five passes for 41 yards.
"Everyone knew what they had to do deep down," said Blake, who during the regular season won three other games with fourth-quarter heroics. "N.C. State didn't put that much pressure on me, and I had time to throw."
"They did what they had to do," Sheridan said, "and were the better team during that period of time."
N.C. State's Terry Jordan, who hadn't played in three months after suffering a broken left arm, threw for two touchdowns. Gary Downs scored on a two-yard run and Greg Manior on a one-yard run before Davenport's 52-yard score on a pass from fullback Ledel George 1:59 into the final quarter.
Blake had thrown for first-half touchdowns of five yards to Johnson and another of 55 yards to Hunter Gallimore. The Pirates added a 27-yard field goal by Anthony Brenner for a 17-14 halftime lead.
The game was the first between the teams since 1987, when the 18-year rivalry ended after a near-riot by fans.
East Carolina Coach Bill Lewis, who completed his third season at the Greenville, N.C., school, declined to discuss the possibility he might be a candidate for the Georgia Tech job, which came open Tuesday when Bobby Ross was hired as coach of the San Diego Chargers.
Lewis reportedly is one of three candidates for the job along with Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Georgia Tech defensive coordinator George O'Leary.
"I don't think it's appropriate to discuss it," Lewis said. "Nobody at Tech has contacted me."
N.C. State had gone ahead, 21-17, by driving 58 yards in 10 plays with the second-half kickoff, capped by Jordan's 14-yard touchdown pass to Robert Hinton.
The Wolfpack, making its fifth bowl appearance in six seasons under Sheridan, scored on the next possession when Manior bulled over from a yard out for a 27-17 lead.
The extra point was blocked by All-American linebacker Robert Jones, who also had 16 tackles, an interception and fumble recovery.
N.C. State opened the scoring during the first quarter on Downs' two-yard run. East Carolina, making its first bowl appearance since 1978, tied the score on Blake's five-yard pass to Johnson less than two minutes later.
N.C. State took a 14-7 lead on Jordan's four-yard pass to Todd Harrison 50 seconds into the second quarter.