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Syracuse football 1997 rewind: Orange can’t keep momentum going vs NC State

It’s a decision that haunts 25 years later

Pasqualoni watches Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange entered their 1997 home opener fresh off a 34-0 thrashing of the Wisconsin Badgers. As they prepared to face future conference NC State, the Syracuse fans were thinking this could be the start of a special season.

The Orange moved up four spots to 13th in the AP poll and once again they started fast with Donovan McNabb hitting Quinton Spotwood for a long touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. Dee Brown added a rushing touchdown and it looked like Syracuse was in for another dominating performance.

NC State quarterback Jamie Barnette had other ideas as he completed 18 of 29 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns on the day. McNabb struggled throwing the ball finishing 12 of 26 for 216 yards.

Still the Orange looked poised to win after Spotwood electrified the crowd with a 72-yard punt return for the tying score in the fourth quarter. The Syracuse defense got the ball back and the offense drove down the field to set up a winning score and that’s when things went south.

After appearing to play it safe by running quarterback sneaks with McNabb and bleeding the clock for a game-winning field goal, Paul Pasqualoni put the ball in the hands of freshmen running back Brown. There would be no joy in the Dome that day as Brown fumbled and the game went to overtime. Syracuse scored on a McNabb pass to Roland Williams but after a rushing touchdown, Barnette found Torry Holt for a two-point conversion and a 32-31 Wolfpack win.

The air was sucked out of the Syracuse season as the fans were sucked out of the Dome that day. There will be little time to wallow in misery as the Orange head on the road to face the Oklahoma Sooners as an unranked 1-1 squad instead of a 2-0 team pushing to crack the top 10.