Syracuse 50, Virginia Tech 42
Syracuse senior Maurice McClain's feet had barely touched the end zone turf at the Carrier Dome tonight when the place erupted. McClain's interception of a Bryan Randall pass in the third overtime ended what was a fast and furious finish to the Orangemen's dramatic 50-42 upset victory over No. 8 Virginia Tech.
As the Hokies' players collapsed around the field, the Orangemen rushed midfield in celebration. Joined by thousands of the 48,239 that had been on their feet screaming throughout the entire second half, the players and their fans danced -- almost literally -- on the backs of their fallen opponents.
The game marked Virginia Tech's second consecutive loss after starting the season 8-0.
"I've never been in this type of game," Randall said. "It feels like a dream. . . . To come up on the short end of the stick hurts more after putting out your heart."
Tied at 42 heading into the third overtime period, Syracuse got the ball first in the alternate-possession format. Senior quarterback Troy Nunes handed to freshman Damien Rhodes on first down and watched as he scampered 25 yards through the left side of the defense for the score.
Forced to attempt a two-point conversion, as is the rule in college football once teams enter the third overtime, Rhodes got the call again.
This time the freshman, who was in for injured starter Walter Reyes, took a pitch from Nunes and rolled left. Seeing no opening, Rhodes reversed field and used a block by his quarterback on senior cornerback Ronyell Whitaker to get just inside the left pylon for a 50-42 lead.
The Hokies, who had struck quickly all game, took the field looking to tie. Randall and wide receiver Ernest Wilford had connected on four previous touchdown passes, and with their run game stifled, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer elected to go to the air again.
Wilford, on first down, made his way to the back left corner of the end zone but could not wiggle his way through the double-team that sandwiched him. McClain (6 feet 1), one of the two defenders, maneuvered inches in front of the 6-4 Wilford and came down with the ball just shy of the out-of-bounds line.
What made the loss doubly tough to take was that the Hokies thought they had it won in the first overtime. Junior cornerback Garnell Wilds intercepted a Nunes' pass during Syracuse's first offensive series, his third of the game, giving Virginia Tech's offense the luxury of needing only a field goal to win. Turning it over to junior kicker Carter Warley at the 19-yard line, the 36-yard attempt sailed wide right. Warley, who sat the past four games with a lower back injury, also missed a 46-yard field goal in the closing seconds of regulation.
"I'm not going to just lay out on the turf with my teammates, hang my head and cry," Warley said. "It's a position I chose to play. I know it has its perks; I've seen its perks. I've never felt the downside -- but this is the downside."
The repercussions of this loss will be much more far-reaching than the immediate pain. Two weeks ago Virginia Tech was in the hunt for the national championship; now it is likely out of the Big East Conference race.
It is difficult to pinpoint what prompted the collapse, or what proved the most shocking element of tonight's defeat.
Virginia Tech's nationally ranked defense allowed 604 yards of total offense, the seventh most in school history. Randall, meantime, threw for 504 yards -- the second best individual showing in school history -- and five touchdowns, and Wilford caught eight passes for a school-record 279 yards.
Randall has been criticized all season for the inability to go deep but tonight hit on eight throws of more than 20 yards, including back-to-back 87-yard tosses in the fourth quarter.
"We played our hearts out there today," said senior tailback Lee Suggs, whose 65 total yards raised his season total to 1,021. "It just hurts."