Kevyn Scott appeared to secure the victory for Syracuse when he made a diving interception over the middle at the Wake Forest 32 with just over 5 minutes remaining and the game tied at 29-all. But Ross Krautman, who had made a school-record 16 straight field goals, had his 32-yard attempt blocked by Kyle Wilber with just under 3 minutes to go in regulation.
It was a breakthrough of sorts for the Orange. Syracuse's last win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team in the Carrier Dome was a 31-13 upset of Rutgers in November 2009. Syracuse was 0-4 last season against FBS teams in the Dome and hasn't had a winning season overall at home since it went 4-1 in 2004.
Wake Forest, which lost starting quarterback Tanner Price to an injury early in the fourth quarter, couldn't mount a threat behind backup Ted Stachitas. Price was 18 of 31 for 289 yards and three touchdowns.
The Orange had rallied furiously after trailing 29-14 early in the fourth quarter.
After Jimmy Newman's 40-yard field goal gave Wake Forest a 15-point lead with 11:02 left, Syracuse's Antwon Bailey scored on a 53-yard run around the left side and quarterback Ryan Nassib hit fullback Adam Harris for a 2-yard score with 8:26 left.
Price hit Chris Givens on scores of 60 and 22 yards, and had a pretty 16-yarder on a third-and-goal play to Michael Camapanaro.
The defense was supposed to be the weak link for the Orange with a veteran offense returning. It was until the end, and so was the offense until it finally got untracked late against Wake's 3-4 spread.
Nassib was 12 of 20 for 85 yards passing through three quarters and finished 20 of 28 for 178 for the Orange.
The Syracuse defense, which lost its heart with the graduation of linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, missed too many tackles and never mounted any kind of pressure on Price, and he repeatedly made them pay. Price had 12 completions of 13 yards or more.
Free safety Phillip Thomas was burned twice by Givens on long passes. Givens hauled in a 37-yard pass in the first quarter to help set up Jimmy Newman's 38-yard field goal, his 13th straight conversion. Givens then blew past Thomas again on the right side and caught a 60-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after Syracuse had scored its first touchdown.
The Orange offense finally got going when Nassib hit tight end Nick Provo over the middle at the Wake Forest 15. Provo broke a tackle by linebacker Riley Haynes and rumbled into the end zone for a 7-6 lead with 9:29 left in the first half.
The Demon Deacons scored again on their final possession of the first half when the Orange were unable to stop a third-and-goal play from the 16 and just over 2 minutes to play.
Price ignored the bad snap on the previous play that had resulted in a 13-yard loss and hit Camapanaro in the right corner of the end zone behind a stumbling strong safety Shamarko Thomas, and Wake Forest went to the locker room with a 20-7 lead.
In the first half, Syracuse gained just 52 yards on 22 plays offensively, and its defense was torched for 258 yards on 45 plays
Syracuse closed to 20-14 on Bailey's 1-yard run with 5:33 left in the third. The Orange capitalized on a roughing-the-passer penalty against linebacker Joey Ehrmann on a third-down incompletion from the Wake Forest 11. Ehrmann's father probably had a nice view of the infraction - he played for Syracuse in the early 1970s and was signing books on Wednesday night at a local theater.
Undaunted, after converting a fourth-and-1, Price hit Campanaro over the middle for 18 yards. Givens then scored on a 22-yard catch-and-run on the next play, easily breaking a weak tackle attempt by Kevyn Scott in the left flat and scampering untouched down the sideline for a 26-14 lead with 20 seconds left in the third.
With eight returning starters on offense and a quarterback with one year as the starter under his belt for the Orange, that side of the ball was being counted on. Instead it sputtered mightily, gaining minus-5 yards in the opening quarter and did not get its initial first down until 11 minutes remained in the first half.
The Orange also were hampered by their enthusiasm, getting called for five penalties in the first quarter alone. A terrific punt by Shane Raupers was nullified when Dorian Graham slammed Campanaro a split second before he touched the ball. That gave the Deacons the ball near midfield and Newman kicked a 37-yard field goal early in the second for a 6-0 lead.
Syracuse finished last season by gaining nearly 500 yards offensively in a 36-34 victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The team trotted the trophy out at halftime, but on this night that triumph seemed a distant memory until the frantic finish.