A botched goal-to-go series with the game-tying score on the line ended with a mistake that no quarterback ever wants to make: With no timeouts left, Rex Culpepper spiked the ball in a last-ditch effort for one more play -- only to realize too late the spike happened on fourth-and-goal. NC State won 36-29, while Syracuse dropped to 1-9 on the season.
Afterward, Syracuse coach Dino Babers called the situation "unfortunate," adding that "one mistake didn't lose that game."
Asked whether he takes responsibility for the way the game ended, Babers said, "I take responsibility for everything that goes on in the game."
The entire series featured several questionable decisions. On first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Syracuse called a running play despite having no timeouts. NC State called a timeout of its own to stop the clock with 30 seconds left. After picking up 2 yards on second-and-goal, Culpepper scrambled around on third-and-goal trying to find someone open. Rather than throw the ball away, he took a sack.
As the seconds ticked away, Syracuse ran to the line for one more play. Culpepper got the snap off with 1 second remaining. If he had not spiked the ball, the Orange would have gotten one final play in.
"The third-down call, you have to throw it away and you play the fourth-down snap," Babers said. "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. There's people making mistakes, but one mistake didn't win or lose the game. Everyone wants to talk about the last play, but the last time I checked there were 70 plays on offense and 70 plays on defense and all of them were important."
Culpepper, making his first start since Oct. 31 in place of an injured JaCobian Morgan, got the Orange in position to win their first game despite inconsistent play for the entire offense all afternoon.
But Babers brought some perspective to what happened at the end of the game. Culpepper survived testicular cancer in 2018, and had only one career start before this season.
"He is an amazing person and you're talking about a young man at his age that's already defeated cancer, and this is a game, but Rex is going to go off and do great things," Babers said. "Rex can do great things here next year. It's something you need to grow from. He had a heck of a game, and it was unfortunate that one play was bad."