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Burnette's Big Hit On Holiday May Mark Turning Point In Future Of N.C. State Football

Posted January 2, 2003

— The hit of the 2002 season for the North Carolina State football team - perhaps the hit that signifies the Wolfpack's arrival as a big-time program - fittingly belonged to Dantonio Burnette on Wednesday.

Burnette, the 5-9 senior linebacker who finished his career with 470 tackles, knocked Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday out of the Gator Bowl, marking the beginning of the end of the Irish's chances for victory.

Burnette stopped Carlyle for no gain during a first-quarter goal-line stand that helped N.C. State to a 28-6 victory over No. 11 Notre Dame. In the process, he separated Carlyle's shoulder, marking the end of Carlyle's season.

The players said the goal-line stand by the Atlantic Coast Conference's No. 1 defense switched early momentum in N.C. State's favor.

After limiting the Fighting Irish to a field goal, the Wolfpack then drove 96 yards to begin a 21-point second quarter to take command.

The victory gave N.C. State 11 wins this season - the best season in school history.

After Holiday left the game, the Wolfpack defense went on to hold the Fighting Irish without a touchdown and to 286 total yards.

The Notre Dame point total matched its lowest in 25 bowl games.

Holiday was heading down the line of scrimmage on an option run when he leaped over a fallen lineman as Burnette came charging from the inside.

"I was thinking I was going to put him on his back," Burnette said. "My eyes got real big when I saw him go airborne.

"When I hit him, I heard him groan, and when I looked down, he was still on the ground. I was like: 'O.K., this is going to turn the game around now.'"

Once Holiday was gone, backup Pat Dillingham was no match for a fired-up Wolfpack defense.

"We knew the other quarterback didn't have much experience," Burnette said, "and when a second-string quarterback comes in, we're really going to get after him.

"It was a very big momentum shift. We really sucked the air out of them. It seemed like their fans couldn't get into it any more after that."

N.C. State (11-3) finished the season without allowing an offensive touchdown in eight quarters against Florida State and Notre Dame.

It doesn't get more impressive than that.

"We go against them every day, and we know they're really good," star quarterback Philip Rivers said of his team's defense. "The past two years, they took a lot of heat because people said we could score but not stop anybody.

"This year, they really turned it on all year. When your defense is playing great, it takes a lot of the pressure off of you."

Notre Dame came in averaging 144 yards a game on the ground. But the Irish was held to 86 Wednesday and was just four-for-19 on third-down conversions.

"Going into the season, a lot of people didn't talk that much about our defense," Burnette said. "It was all about our offense.

"Our offense deserves a lot of credit, but we went out and played with a chip on our shoulder on defense this year."

What motivated Burnette and his fellow defenders?

"We felt like Notre Dame didn't respect us at all," Burnette said. "It seemed like we were the other team down here all week.

"At the press conference they asked us, like, two questions, and they asked Notre Dame all the questions. We wanted to go out there and prove to those guys that North Carolina State was one of the better teams in the country."

The Wolfpack practices goal-line plays every Tuesday at practice and have dubbed that time the Chuck Amato Drill.

The defense started the game with one stand and ended with another to demoralize Notre Dame once more as about 35,000 N.C. State fans gave the team a standing ovation.

"Oh gosh, double-A, double-plus," Amato said when asked to grade the goal-line stands. "That first one had the biggest impact on the game."

Another defensive hero was seldom-used defensive back Rod Johnson, who had three interceptions. He came into the game with one career pick, but left Wednesday with the game ball.

"This was a dream game for me," he said. "Coach Amato always has said for us to win a national championship we have to be a great defense. A lot of people around the country saw we are a good defense."

In the end, Notre Dame's offense had to admit it was physically beaten up front.

"Give credit where credit is due," Notre Dame offensive lineman Jim Molinaro said. "They played a better game than we did."

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