SYRACUSE, N.Y., NOV. 21 -- At 11:04 p.m. tonight, the Syracuse football team completed a breath-taking last-second drive and kept its national championship hopes alive.
That was when Orangemen running back Michael Owens ran in a two-point conversion with 10 seconds to play to give 11-0 Syracuse a 32-31 victory over West Virginia before 49,866 disbelieving spectators at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson's 17-yard pass to tight end Pat Kelly ended a 74-yard drive in the final 1:27 and brought the Orangemen within 31-30.
The Mountaineers had stopped Syracuse's option play most of the evening, but Owens received the pitch from McPherson on the conversion and went left and scored untouched.
The players immediately rushed to the field to celebrate, and moments later, the spectators joined them.
"I'm just completely numb," said McPherson. "I really can't recall what happened on that last drive."
West Virginia (6-5) led 14-10 at halftime, and went ahead 24-17 with 10:06 to play.
But the sixth-ranked Orangemen, who officially received a Sugar Bowl bid before the game, tied the score when fullback Daryl Johnston scored on a 19-yard run after breaking a tackle and carrying two defenders into the end zone.
With 5:28 to play, West Virginia, led by freshman quarterback Major Harris, began a 67-yard drive that appeared to be the game-winner.
Mountaineers running back Undra Johnson (120 yards on 21 carries) scored from 10 yards out with 1:32 remaining to give West Virginia a 31-24 lead.
"The way we came back, we deserve at least a shot at the national championship," said Syracuse defensive tackle Rob Burnett.
It was announced before the game that McPherson had been selected to the Kodak All-America first team. But McPherson, who is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, had trouble in the first half, throwing three interceptions and fumbling a handoff.
West Virginia linebacker Chris Haering recovered the fumbled handoff to tailback Robert Drummond, and the Mountaineers scored on their first play from the Syracuse 45-yard line to take a 7-0 lead with 59 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Harris connected on a long post pattern to wide receiver John Talley, who caught the pass at the 1-yard line behind cornerback Chris Ingram and reached into the end zone.
Ingram made up for that on the ensuing kickoff, as he caught the ball after a bounce at his 17 and returned it to the West Virginia 38. Reserve tailback Bryon Abraham capped seven straight running plays by the Orangemen by scoring from two yards out. Tim Vesling kicked the extra point and tied the score with 12:33 to play in the first half.
The running of Owens set up a Vesling field goal later in the quarter. Owens got Syracuse out of a hole at its 17 with an 18-yard gain. On third down and 10 at the Syracuse 38, he ran 30 yards on an option play, then 12 more yards on the next play. But the Orangemen's offense stalled and Vesling kicked a 30-yard field goal with 6:09 remaining to give Syracuse a 10-7 lead.