Updated: Sunday, August 31, 2003 2:46 AM EDT
NCAA FOOTBALL RECAP
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(13) No Carolina St 59, Western Carolina 20
WESTERN CAROLINA CATAMOUNTS
Western Carolina Catamounts
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NORTH CAROLINA ST. WOLFPACK
North Carolina St. Wolfpack
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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Philip Rivers started his season off with the most efficient performance of his career.

Rivers completed 26-of-30 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns as No. 13 North Carolina State had no trouble in its season opener, a 59-20 rout of Division I-AA foe Western Carolina.

Rivers' 86.7 percent completion percentage was a career high as he guided the Wolfpack to their fourth victory in an opener in as many years under coach Chuck Amato. The senior threw for over 3,000 yards a year ago.

North Carolina State took a 14-0 lead after one quarter. Rivers found Tramain Hall for an eight-yard TD pass and T.A. McLendon added an eight-yard touchdown run.

"There were a couple things that disappointed me," Amato said. "At times, we didn't fight as hard as we should have fought. I thought the offense looked awfully, awfully good. The biggest thing is the defense."

Hall provided one of the game's most exciting plays with a 66-yard punt return for a 35-7 bulge with 6:10 left before halftime. Jerricho Cotchery, who was listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, added an 18-yard TD reception from Rivers to make it 42-7 just over three minutes later.

"I don't care if he never scores another touchdown here," Amato said about Hall. "He's shown us what it's like to be a great fan of NC State."

Western Carolina fell to 0-21 against Atlantic Coast Conference foes, including an 0-5 mark against NC State. The Catamounts face another ACC foe next week with a visit to Duke.

The game served as a tuneup for NC State, which plays its next two contests on the road. The Wolfpack visit Wake Forest next week in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener before a September 13 trip to defending national champion Ohio State.

The night ended early for Rivers, who was pulled after a two-yard TD pass to Cotra Jackson opened up a 49-20 lead. It was Jackson's second touchdown of the game.

Hall made his highly anticipated debut after going through eligibility problems upon enrolling in January 2001. The multi-dimensional receiver had seven catches for 97 yards in addition to his exciting punt return.

"When I got out on the field, the adrenaline was pumping," Hall said. "I was nervous on the first play because I knew I needed to catch the ball."

McLendon carried 14 times for 69 yards. Sterling Hicks had seven catches for 110 yards and Cotchery made five receptions for 62 yards

Backup Jay Davis also looked sharp, completing 8-of-9 passes for 83 yards and a 25-yard touchdown to Brian Clark.

Western Carolina's Brian Gaither completed 20-of-37 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. His favorite target was Michael Reeder, who caught nine passes for 132 yards.

"Brian Gaither played a gutsy game," Catamounts coach Gary Briggs said. "He threw like he did in the preseason. He did a good job of getting rid of the football and showed a lot of poise."

The Wolfpack improved to 62-10-3 in home openers.


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