It's not often that an extra point attempt in the first quarter ends up being the most pivotal play in the game.
But Ryan Norton's blocked attempt turned out to be one of the most important plays of the game, and also the season. It may even cost the Orange a bowl game.
The Orange lost to the Panthers, 17-16, on Saturday in absolutely heartbreaking fashion. Syracuse now has to beat Boston College at home next week to become bowl eligible.
"We came up six inches short," coach Scott Shafer said. "We came up half a second or a quarter of a second short. That's life man. We can sit here and sulk about it, but then we're being soft and we're not going to be soft around here."
In the final minute, Syracuse was down one, facing a 4th and 8 at the Pittsburgh 36 yard line. It looked as if the offense was staying on the field, until Norton rushed on with about 15 seconds left on the play clock. Shafer caught the Panthers off-guard as he was about to attempt a fake field-goal pass. But Pitt coach Paul Chryst saw what happened and called a timeout.
Shafer chose to put his offense back in, rather than attempting a 53-yard kick. Terrel Hunt's pass was batted down.
"Am I frustrated? Hell yeah, I want to put my hand through the wall," Shafer said. "I'm going to be good. My mom's back there."
A minute before halftime, Ritchy Desir recovered a muffed point at the Panthers' 24 yard line. Backup running back Devante McFarlane couldn't hang on to a pass in the end zone. Two plays later, Syracuse lined up safety Durell Eskridge at receiver. The result was the same – another drop. Eskridge may have had possession, but the referees ruled that he juggled the ball for too long.
"I feel like I made that catch," Eskridge said. "I kind of bobbled it a little bit, but I felt like I brought it in at the end and kept my feet in."
The Orange only came away with three points after Norton converted for a 41 yard field goal.
"I was late on it," Hunt said. "If I'd had thrown it earlier, it would have been a touchdown. I'll have to go back to the drawing board and get better."
A minute later, Hunt found an open Quinta Funderburk, but he also dropped a pass in the end zone. Syracuse had to settle for another 41 yard field goal.
But this kick went wide right.
Syracuse's two touchdowns came on a 36 yard run by Jerome Smith and a diving 42 yard catch by Alvin Cornelius. The catch put Syracuse up 16-10 and ended Hunt's passing touchdown drought. It was his first since facing Tulane on Sept. 21.
But the lead didn't last long. Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage quickly led the Panthers down the field. On the last play of the third quarter, Isaac Bennett ran for a five-yard touchdown.
Savage went 28-41 with 218 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He excelled at keeping his cool in the pocket, despite getting pressured all day.
"He did a nice job and I congratulate them on a nice victory," Shafer said.
Even in a losing effort, Syracuse's defense played a strong game. In particular, Eskridge really stood out. In the first half, he had ten tackles, a forced fumble and almost caught an interception. He was disappointed his work didn't come in a winning effort, but still is fortunate to get another opportunity.
"You get very frustrated but at the end of the day we have another chance to come out and beat Boston College," he said. "We have to come back tomorrow and prepare, watch film and be ready to go on Saturday."
Senior center Macky MacPherson shared this idea of moving forward past a tough loss. MacPherson doesn't want his next game with Syracuse to be his last.
Said MacPherson, "I don't think you're going to see a team work harder than us. This week our backs are against the wall. We're in the corner and it's do or die time."