NC State scored back to back touchdowns at the end of the third quarter and early fourth quarter to take the lead back from the Orange and snatch a victory from Syracuse 36-29.
Syracuse was driving late to try to tie the game. In fact, they had a first and goal at the nine yard line with 45 seconds left. On third and goal, Culpepper took a sack after scrambling around for a good 8-10 seconds rather than throwing it away. As Syracuse hurried back to the line of scrimmage to try to get one more play off, Culpepper spiked the ball on fourth down, giving it back to NC State.
Third down defense killed Syracuse all game, as NC State routinely picked up third and eight, third and 10 and even third and 15s. The Wolfpack was 8-13 on third down overall, but converted seven of its first 10. At least four of those conversions led to touchdowns.
The game started out with big plays on both sides. NC State marched down the field on their first possession of the game, capped by a Zonovan Knight touchdown run to take an early lead. Syracuse freshman Trebor Pena took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score to tie the game. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown for Syracuse since 2011 when Dorian Graham accomplished the feat against West Virginia.
NC State appeared to score on their next possession on a Bailey Hockman bootleg, but replay review revealed Geoff Cantin-Arku forced a fumble at the one yard line. With the ball bouncing out of the end zone, Syracuse was awarded the ball on a touchback.
The Syracuse defense continued to step up, with a Mikel Jones interception setting up a short field goal and a Marlowe Wax sack leading to a safety. A Rex Culpepper 60 yard touchdown toss to Nykeim Johnson gave the Orange a 22-14 lead heading into halftime.
NC State started the second half strong, as Hockman hit Thayer Thomas for a 31 yard score to trim the lead to six after the two point conversion was no good. Syracuse answered back when Culpepper hit Taj Harris, who set a career high with 13 catches in the game, from 13 yards out to extend Syracuse's lead to nine.
The Wolfpack answered once again with back to back touchdown drives, each ending with a Hockman scoring toss. The first was to Thomas while the second came early in the fourth quarter to Emeka Emezie to give NC State the lead back for good. In between those touchdowns, Harris had his only blunder of the game as he dropped a deep pass that would have put Syracuse deep in NC State territory with a chance to extend their lead.
NC State would add a late field goal and the Orange offense would go three and out on four straight possessions to seal the deal.
Culpepper finished the game 23-45 for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Syracuse did not turn the ball over in the game, but did force two defensively. Sean Tucker was held in check as he gained just 18 yards on 16 carries. Taj Harris finished with 13 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
Hockman was 23-31 for 313 yards and four touchdowns for NC State. Thayer Thomas had nine catches for 102 yards and three scores. NC State finished with 408 total yards to just 254 for Syracuse. The Orange had just three total yards
Syracuse drops to 1-9 (1-8) on the season. They wrap up the regular season at No. 2 Notre Dame next week.