RALEIGH, N.C. -- Christian Jones can hardly count all the times it was over, only to find out that NC State still had life.
It was over at the half, when Florida State's defense had dominated. It was over when Tyler Hunter thumped Shadrach Thornton short of the marker on a fourth-down play with just 2:47 remaining. It was over on any one of the three third-down stops on NC State's final drive that were followed each time by failure on fourth down.
That's what nagged at Jones after it really was over, after NC State pulled off the 17-16 upset of No. 3 Florida State, surely ending the Seminoles hopes for a national championship. There had been so many stops, so many big plays, so many moments when it might have turned out differently -- until it didn't.
"There wasn't much devastating, but those fourth downs, we had an opportunity to get off the field and we didn't," Jones said.
The vaunted Florida State defense never collapsed under the weight of mounting pressure and, defensive tackle Everett Dawkins insists, it never caved amid the furious pace of NC State's no-huddle offense in the waning minutes of the game.
This was death by a thousand pin pricks.
Mike Glennon completed 30 passes Saturday night, the longest of which went for 24 yards. That one was a dump off to a running back who scampered freely down the field. Sixteen of Glennon's 30 completions went to running backs or tight ends. The handful of passes he made to the wideouts came on crossing patterns over the middle that FSU's linebacking corps was powerless to stop.
"It's just hard because they're getting what they can from us," said Jones, who tallied a game-high 14 tackles. "Most of the game we covered them pretty well, but all those little yards add up."
In the week leading up to the game, Florida State's defensive line was giddy at the prospect of attacking a statuesque quarterback, but the pressure never developed.
Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine were held without a sack, as the NC State offensive line, absent three starters due to injury, held the pass rush at bay, and Glennon rarely provided Werner or Carradine with an inviting target.
"They did a lot of schemes and stuff to stop us from getting back there, a lot of slides and different stuff," Dawkins said. "They keyed in on some guys on our defensive line and tried to take them out of the game. And the quarterback, when you did get back there, he threw the ball quick."
The game plan was impeccable for NC State.
In the first half, the Wolfpack found virtually nothing offensively. They'd managed just 68 yards on 29 plays -- 21 of which went for three yards or fewer. They had no answers.
In the second half, the torture began with every dink followed by a dunk, and eventually the weight of it all became too much for the Florida State defense.
"They switched it up," Dawkins said. "They ran the ball less, started hitting us with crossing routes, quick passes."
The numbers for Florida State's defense shouldn't have been discouraging. NC State mustered just 66 yards on the ground. Glennon managed just 4.7 yards per attempt. The Wolfpack converted just five of 18 third-down tries.
And yet it wasn't enough.
"The defense played their hearts out," Jimbo Fisher said. "(NC State) fought for the inches, made the inches, and we didn't."