Trailing by seven points late in the fourth quarter, Syracuse was driving looking to tie NC State in its home finale. Two disastrous plays cost the Orange that chance and led to a 36-29 loss.
After a completion by Rex Culpepper to Taj Harris, Syracuse was set up with first-and-goal at the nine-yard line with 45 seconds left. The Orange had no timeouts left.
After a short run and an incompletion, disaster struck. Culpepper dropped back on third down, and surveyed the field. With no one open, he started to scramble to buy time. He continued to look to the end zone hoping someone would break free. As he twisted and turned in the backfield, he held the ball for too long and was sacked with just seconds remaining setting up a fourth and goal at the 18-yard line.
As the team rushed to the line of scrimmage to try to get off one more play, Culpepper motioned as if he would spike the ball to stop the clock, on fourth down, inexplicably. And that is exactly what he did. As Syracuse got to the line, Culpepper spiked the ball turning it over to NC State, ending the game.
While converting a fourth-and-goal from the 18 is a difficult proposition, it is not impossible. Many things could happen from a blown assignment that leaves a receiver open to a penalty in the end zone that gives you another play at the two yard line. Spiking the ball on fourth down afforded Syracuse neither of those opportunities and was an unfortunate lack of awareness from the senior quarterback.
"The third-down call, you have to throw it away," head coach Dino Babers said after the game. "Then you play the fourth down snap. If you're going to go on fourth down, you're going to have to throw the ball. Nobody wants to spike it on fourth down. I don't look at these plays, you know there's people making mistakes but one mistake didn't win or lose a game. There were other mistakes made during that game and people need to realize that. There were balls where people dropped the balls. There were plays where DBs who couldn't make plays in the end zone.
"So everyone wants to talk about the last play, but last time I checked there were like 70 plays on offense and 70 plays on defense. There were 140 snaps in that game. All of them were important."