Does anyone remember the last time we played in a dome?
One storyline for the Tennessee game is that State doesn’t often play on artificial turf and rarely plays in a dome; it’s probably the same for Tennessee. In the ACC, only Wake Forest and Boston College have field turf, and the only other games on artificial turf under TOB were the 2008 PapaJohns.com Bowl, 2010 Champs Sports Bowl and at Cincinnati last season; in the SEC, only Arkansas and Ole Miss (and now Missouri) have field turf, and they’re in the SEC West, outside the regular rotation for the Vols.
Now, the answer: the season opener at Syracuse on August 31, 1997. Syracuse was ranked 13th and fresh off a 34-0 thumping of Wisconsin in one of those long-past kickoff classics, while State was coming off a 3-8 season in 1996 and had then-relative unknowns named Jamie Barnette and Torry Holt (NY Times):
Paul Pasqualoni had warned his Syracuse players all week not to live on the memory of their thrashing of Wisconsin in the Kickoff Classic. He warned them not to look at North Carolina State’s 3-8 record of 1996. He warned his team and he warned the news media, telling anyone who would listen that things were not going to be as easy as it looked in the opener.
But, unfortunately for the 13th-ranked Orangemen, they did not seem to believe Pasqualoni until it was too late. And that time came in overtime with the heavy favorites suddenly scrambling to face a 2-point conversion by the Wolfpack that put the game on the line.
As North Carolina State lined up for the 2-point conversion to go for the victory, passing up the safe point after, the Wolfpack could see the fear and confusion in the eyes of the Syracuse defenders. That made the pass from Jamie Barnette to Torry Holt, who was streaking into the left corner of the end zone, almost a formality, capping a 32-31 upset that the Wolfpack knew it had as soon as it hit the line of scrimmage.
”Two plays before we scored, I said we’re going for 2,” North Carolina State Coach Mike O’Cain said. ”I didn’t know what defense they would be in, but what I felt was they weren’t confident. They’re thinking: ‘We just got hit. We just got a touchdown scored against us. This game should have been over a long time ago. This game shouldn’t be like this.’
”They were not a confident team at that point, and it was the time to attack them.”
The Wolfpack never rolled over, despite the low expectations, even within the program where O’Cain has conceded that he would step down if troubles continued the way they had in his first four seasons.
They battled back from deficits of 14-0 and 17-10, and came back again when the Orangemen came up with a 73-yard touchdown on a punt return with 9 minutes 51 seconds to play.
And they were facing elimination in the final minute of regulation when Syracuse pushed down to the 2-yard line with 30 seconds left.
But when Pasqualoni opted to give the ball to the freshman Dee Brown instead of leaving it in the hands of the Heisman candidate Donovan McNabb or the blue-chip fullback Rob Konrad, Brown tried to reach over the goal line and Tony Scott stripped the ball out of his hands. The Wolfpack recovered and ran out the clock, forcing the extra session.
”I never think it’s over,” Barnette said. ”I think you’ve got a shot, whether they’re on the one or we’re behind or whatever. I was just praying for the defense to come up with some kind of play to give us another chance to win.”
The dome game before that? The 1995 Peach Bowl victory over Mississippi State at the Georgia Dome.