This game happened so long ago, Donovan McNabb was still in college and ESPN2 was still being branded separately from ESPN, in that IN YO FACE STREET LUGE IS REAL DO THE DEW ESPN2 1990s type of way. I only remember the latter because the 1997 State-Syracuse game aired on ESPN2.
For whatever reason, that season-opening win in the Carrier Dome is still on my top five favorite Wolfpack football victories list. It was significant in the sense that State upset a team ranked in the top 20, but it didn't mean much of anything from a big-picture perspective (of course, not many wins have since then). It was a jolt of "wow, these guys might not suck" (and they didn't!) after a couple of three-win seasons, which is not an entry that rates particularly high on your typical Scale Of Pleasant Surprises.
If there is a definitive bullet-point-in-history to the contest, it's the fact that it was the introduction of Torry Holt as a game-changing player at wide receiver. He scored twice against the Orange, in addition to grabbing Jamie Barnette's pass on the game-winning two-point conversion, and ended the day with 125 yards receiving. It was the start of two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for Holt, and dude would have a Super Bowl ring not even three years later.
Well before those touchdowns against Syracuse, way way before the two-point try, everything was going right the hell on to shit. The bane of State's existence in that game was not so much McNabb, who was pretty mediocre--it was wide receiver Quinton Spotwood, who scored on a bomb on the first play from scrimmage and later housed a punt return. (He returned four punts for TDs that year.)
Spotwood helped the Orange to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Wolfpack managed to rally with 10 unanswered, and we went into the half down just 17-10. That margin, in those circumstances, was more than enough to inject hope into the proceedings after that deflating first quarter. Seems like most of the time that's just a setup for disappointment we thought we were free from experiencing. This game ended up going nuts, though--in a good way.
I mean, Syracuse had the game won. With the score tied and less than a minute remaining in regulation, they had the ball inside our 10 yard line. People in the stands were preemptively collecting their belongings. Syracuse probably would have prevailed with McNabb taking a knee a time or two to set up the chip-shot field goal. Instead the Orange chose to hand the ball off; State forced a fumble, recovered, and pushed the game into overtime.
Syracuse got the ball first in OT and scored a quick touchdown, though State was able to respond with a Tremayne Stephens TD. Stephens was already jogging to the sideline before realizing the coaches wanted to go for two, and despite what had to be a pretty noticeable hubbub, the Orange never seemed to comprehend what was going on until it was too late.
The result: Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni is frantically leaping up and down in hopes that somebody on the field will spot him and call a timeout; the Orange players are in no position to handle any half-decent play from scrimmage; Barnette hits Holt on the easiest throw-and-catch either of them could ever have.Thanks for all that, Paul.
(I can't find highlights of this game anywhere online, and it hurts me. Somebody be a hero and dig them up and get 'em on the tubes.)