Close, but not close enough.
The theme of Syracuse’s season continued as the Orange lost, 24-17, in heartbreaking fashion to the NC State Wolfpack.
Cole Murphy’s 50-yard field goal and Syracuse’s successful onside kick set up a dramatic finish that few of the 40,787 fans could have expected. The Orange took over at its own 46 after Dyshawn Davis – by rule – wasn’t able to advance a recovered onside kick. So Syracuse set up with 17 seconds and no timeouts left, needing a game-tying touchdown.
But AJ Long’s Hail Mary fell short and fell into the hands of NC State’s Josh Jones. Long’s third turnover sealed the game, and possibly, the season. Syracuse dropped to 3-6 with the loss and now has to win all three remaining games to become bowl eligible.
“We ended up minus-two in turnovers and you just don’t win very many games when you’re minus-two in turnovers,” Scott Shafer said.
Long set a true freshman record with 307 passing yards, but the game hinged on just three plays – three mistakes – that he made. With Syracuse leading 14-9 in the third quarter, Long didn’t see a defensive end who had dropped back in coverage. He tried to connect with Sean Avant, who was running a curl route from the slot.
Instead, Pharoah McKever stepped in front of the pass and zipped 82 yards to the end zone. Long sprinted seventy yards down the field, trying to run down McKever. But Long was tangled up by a Wolfpack blocker just before the goal line. Like the game, it was just too little, too late.
“It’s tough, especially for a young quarterback when you drop an end in coverage,” Shafer said. “A nice call by NC State. AJ didn’t see the guy there and the kid made a nice play and turned it into an athletic touchdown.”
It took all the momentum out of Syracuse’s offense, which had scored touchdowns right before and right after halftime. After the interception, Syracuse only had two first downs in the next three drives. Still, the Orange defense kept the game close by limiting the Wolfpack to just 25 percent on third down.
And then finally, the freestyling caught up to Long and the Orange.
He danced around a few defenders, but Rodman Noel poked the ball free and NC State recovered the fumble. The Wolfpack took over in Syracuse territory and quickly scored to take a commanding 24-14 lead with 2:14 left in the game.
“I made mistakes down the stretch that I can’t make if I want to win,” Long said. “I can’t fumble the ball with four minutes left. I got to put more air on the ball on the last play of the game.
Added Long, "There were too many mistakes that I’m making that cost us this game.”