RALEIGH, N.C. — Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder looked like he would culminate a length-of-the-field drive with a winning play.
Then on second and goal from the 4-yard line, he fumbled the ball, and the game.
N.C. State, behind quarterback Russell Wilson (three rushing touchdowns and a passing score in the waning moments), held on for a 28-24 victory on Thursday night before an announced crowd of 56,807 at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Now the No. 16 Seminoles (6-2, 4-1 ACC), who could have taken a firm grip on the ACC's Atlantic Division, are in a dogfight with N.C. State (6-2, 3-1), Maryland (5-2, 2-1) and Clemson (4-3, 2-2) for a spot in the Dec. 4 title game.
"It was my fault," said Ponder, who showed no effects of a ruptured bursa sac in the right (throwing) elbow he sustained against Boston College on Oct. 16. "It goes all on me. We had the game won, and I didn't finish. It's not a good feeling."
On the fumble, Ponder was supposed to fake a handoff to running back Ty Jones and throw to tight end Beau Reliford.
"I extended the ball too far," said Ponder, whose two rushing touchdowns and one passing came during the Seminoles' 21-point second quarter.
"He put the ball out to fake it, and when he pulled it back, he caught it on (Jones') hip," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They never covered the tight end. The tight end was standing in the back of the end zone. But we didn't make the play."
Wilson did make the big play, however, finishing as well as he started. He scored on a 1-yard plunge to cap a 12-play drive on the Wolfpack's first series to make it 7-0 7:05 in.
But the Seminoles defense tightened up. The Wolfpack gained a total of 65 yards for the rest of the half, 30 coming on a Wilson scramble.
Meanwhile, Ponder and the offense, dogged by penalties during the first quarter, got on track and took a 21-7 halftime lead.
Wilson, however, methodically marched his team down the field to open the second half and scored on a 10-yard run to cut the FSU lead to 21-14. The score seized momentum that only grew when the N.C. State defense came up with a big play.
Tackle Natanu Mageo sacked Ponder and forced a fumble that tackle J.R. Sweezy recovered at the FSU 22. (It appeared to be an incompletion, but the ruling stood after a replay review.) Wilson produced the tying touchdown with a 20-yard run.
Wilson seemed poised to give his team the lead when he evaded a sack to hit receiver Jarvis Williams for 29 yards on third and 22 from the FSU 40. But cornerback Xavier Rhodes intercepted his second-down pass. Wilson, who set the NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception in 2008-09 with 379, has thrown 10 over his past five games.
FSU regained the lead at 24-21, fueled by a 30-yard catch-and-run by Bert Reed on third and 20 that set up Dustin Hopkins' 31-yard field goal with 9:07 left. But Wilson went back to work.
He hit Darrell Davis, a former Pasco High standout, for 35 yards on fourth and 4 from the 36. FSU stopped Wilson on two runs, then tailback James Washington for no gain. After sending out the field-goal unit, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien called timeout and decided to go for it.
"I think (the coaches) had a second to think about it, and it was a good decision," Wilson said. "We were at home on the 1-inch line. We had to get in."
Wilson faked a handoff, rolled right and hit tight end George Bryan.
"He and (Ponder) were making plays right and left all over the field," Fisher said. "They made one more they we did at the end."