SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Hold that Heisman. Rein in the raves. Syracuse is, well, Syracuse.
Someday the Orangemen will get it right. Saturday was not that day. A year after they self-destructed among so many penalties and turnovers in season-opening losses to North Carolina and Minnesota, they did so again, losing 32-31 in overtime to North Carolina State.
This one hurt even more, for it came only six days after a 34-0 victory over Wisconsin that had No. 13 Syracuse (1-1) flying sky-high after only one game.
"The way we lost," said Quinton Spotwood, who had six catches for 155 yards and scored twice for Syracuse - on a 67-yard pass play to start the game and a 72-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. "Physically, we were ready. Mentally, I don't feel like the team put it all together. I feel at times it was just the breaks. We were shooting ourselves in the foot a lot, getting penalties."
The Wolfpack won it on a 2-point conversion attempt that seemed to catch Syracuse by surprise.
Tremayne Stephens had just scored on a 1-yard run to pull N.C. State within a point and coach Mike O'Cain decided to go for the win. He got it when Jamie Barnette hit Torry Holt in the left corner of the end zone. As the Wolfpack lined up for the 2-point try, Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni failed to get his players' attention in time for them to call time out.
"There was no question in my mind about going for two at the end," said O'Cain, whose job was said to be in jeopardy. "In that kind of situation, you need to choose your opportunity. Their defense was reeling and had lost its confidence."
That was mainly because of Barnette, who completed 18-of-29 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns and won the duel against Donovan McNabb.
McNabb, who staked his claim to the Heisman Trophy with a nearly flawless performance against Wisconsin, looked like just another quarterback against the Wolfpack. He was just 12-for-26 for 216 yards and was unable to generate any consistency on offense.
In the overtime McNabb came alive, though, putting Syracuse ahead quickly with an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Roland Williams on the third play. But just when the Wolfpack seemed doomed for good, Barnette scrambled for a first down on a third-and-9 play to set up Stephens' run.
The game was won on third down. The Wolfpack, mainly thanks to Barnette's shiftiness, converted 11-of-17 third-down chances.
"Despite how poorly we played, I felt confident that we were going to be able to win the game, get back and get everything straightened out," Pasqualoni said. "It would have been a great win."
Instead, it was a great win for the Wolfpack, who had won just six of their previous 22 games.
Spotwood tried his best to win it for Syracuse in regulation, setting up what appeared would be the game-winning score with a superlative 52-yard catch between two defenders at the North Carolina State 5 with 1:07 left.
But Dee Brown, a newcomer to the Syracuse backfield who had scored his first career touchdown in the first quarter, fumbled near the goal line - on third down - with only seconds remaining and North Carolina State survived.
"We were just praying on the sideline for the defense to come up with some kind of play and give us another chance to win," Barnette said.
Pasqualoni defended the decision not to kick.
"The ball was so close that we felt on that play that we might just be able to push it into the end zone," he said. "Then we wouldn't have to kick a field goal. We thought that by running that play we'd keep it in the middle of the field with an excellent possibility that maybe it would go over the goal line."
Spotwood had given Syracuse a 24-17 lead on a 73-yard punt return with 9:51 left. But Barnette hit Mark Thomas for a 9-yard touchdown pass to knot the game at 24-24 with 4:33 remaining.
Holt, who finished with five catches for 125 yards, caught an 18-yard TD in the right corner of the end zone with 19 seconds left in the third to tie the game at 17-17.