Orlando, Fla. If this was Russell Wilson’s football finale, he sure made the most of it.
Wilson threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, leading North Carolina State past No. 22 West Virginia, 23-7, in the Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday night.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s leading passer this season now has to decide whether to make an early move toward a professional baseball career or come back to lead the Wolpack again next year.
“I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to play football and baseball my whole life,” Wilson said. “If it happens in the future that I can still do that, or if it doesn’t, whatever, but I know that playing for Coach (Tom) O’Brien and playing for N.C. State — whether I do come back or not — has been a great opportunity and a great blessing.
“I’m very passionate about N.C. State and N.C. State football, and I will always be.”
Wilson also had 41 yards rushing, Josh Czajkowski made three field goals and the Wolfpack (9-4) won nine games for the first time since 2002.
Geno Smith had 196 yards passing and an injured Noel Devine ran for 50 yards for the Mountaineers (9-4), whose five second-half turnovers ended any hopes of a cheerful send off for some of Bill Stewart’s staff.
Stewart is being slowly moved out as coach, with Dana Holgorsen, Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator, taking over at the same position next year at West Virginia before moving into Stewart’s job in 2012. The game was current offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen’s last game.
“I don’t mean to be a wise (guy), but this is not the time to talk about next year,” Stewart said. “I just finished a bowl game. I’ll see them Jan. 9 and we’ll start preparation then for 2011.”
Instead, this one was a coronation for someone else.
Wilson, who earned the bowl’s MVP honor, may very well have played his last football game for the Wolfpack. He spent much of the summer playing second base in the Colorado Rockies’ minor-league system, and his career in baseball has always seemed more promising.
The Wolfpack can only hope he returns.
Wilson was 28 for 45 passing, had no interceptions and shredded a West Virginia defense that had been solid. It was the most points that the Mountaineers — who had never given up more than 21 points — allowed all season.
“We’ve got to try to persuade him to come back,” running back James Washington said.
Wilson’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Mustafa Greene put the Wolfpack up 7-0 in the first quarter, and they never had trouble moving the ball after that. Scoring, at least early, was another matter.
N.C. State’s offense stalled several times after crossing into Mountaineers’ territory. The Wolfpack also faked a potential 43-yard field goal in the second quarter that was a disaster: Holder Corey Tedder threw an over-the-shoulder pass from his knees that skipped off the new field turf, kicker Czajkowski was hit amid the scramble and West Virginia took possession.
West Virginia capitalized when Smith threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey, who reached over defensive back David Amerson to catch the ball and tie the game.
But the Mountaineers ended any chance of a comeback with late turnovers. Smith fumbled a handoff, Devine lost the ball after a hit by Amerson and then Smith was intercepted by Brandon Bishop.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jock Sanders fumbled a punt on the West Virginia 7-yard line that led to a 3-yard TD catch by Jarvis Williams to seal the victory. Smith also had another fumble in the final minutes.
“We said all year long that our motto was we can only stop ourselves and beat ourselves and that’s pretty much what happened,” Devine said.
The win put Wilson in elite company with only one other Wolfpack quarterback: Only the 2002 team that went 11-3, led by Philip Rivers, had won at least nine games.