SYRACUSE, New York (Ticker) -- Special teams have been a trademark at Virginia Tech under coach Frank Beamer. But they cost the Hokies a win at the Carrier Dome.
Freshman Damien Rhodes scored on a 25-yard run on the first play of the third overtime period as Syracuse handed seventh-ranked Virginia Tech its second straight loss, 50-42, in a wild Big East Conference matchup.
After Virginia Tech's Carter Warley missed potential winning field goals at the end of the fourth quarter and the first overtime, Rhodes raced untouched to the end zone to break a 42-42 tie. He also took a pitch, reversed his field and sneaked in for the two-point conversion.
On the next play, Bryan Randall threw into double coverage and was intercepted by safety Maurice McClain.
"I just made sure I made the play," McClain said. "We got beat on it earlier in the game and I just made sure I made the play."
The mistake spoiled an otherwise spectacular afternoon and early evening for Randall, who completed 23-of-35 passes for 504 yards and five touchdowns.
"I forced the play. It was probably a bad decision on my part," Randall said. "I'd never believe it if you'd tell me I'd pass for 500 yards and we'd still lose. Mentally and physically, it was a draining game. To put so much heart into this and lose, it hurts."
Ernest Wilford had eight catches and set school records with 279 yards and four scores, but the loss killed the remote national championship aspirations of Virginia Tech (8-2, 3-2 Big East).
Rhodes came on midway through the fourth quarter after Walter Reyes suffered a right knee injury and carried 17 times for 67 yards and a pair of TDs. Reyes totaled 118 yards and three touchdowns on 21 rushes.
Troy Nunes passed for 403 yards and forced a third overtime with a six-yard TD toss to tight end Joe Donnelly on 4th-and-3.
"We were on a mission today," Nunes said. "Our coaches called a great game and put us in great position. There's no sweeter feeling than what I'm feeling right now. It's something to dream about. It's one of the best feelings I've ever had."
Warley could have avoided overtime but was short on a 46-yard field goal attempt with 13 seconds left in regulation. He also was wide right with a 36-yarder at the end of the first extra possession.
"I don't want to make excuses, but we're missing some players," said Beamer, whose team was without injured tailback Kevin Jones and cornerback DeAngelo Hall. "They made plays and we didn't. It was good play by Syracuse, not good play by us."
Jones' absence helped explain why the nation's 13th-ranked rushing offense was held to 55 yards. Hall's replacement, Garnell Wilds, tied a school record with three interceptions.
With half of its vaunted backfield tandem out, Virginia Tech relied on a quick-strike attack orchestrated by Randall. He threw touchdown passes of 75, 34 and 87 yards to Wilford, then found the 6-4 junior with a six-yard toss to give the Hokies a 35-28 lead with 4:45 to go in the fourth quarter.
But Nunes hooked up with David Tyree for 62 yards on the next play from scrimmage and Rhodes waltzed into the end zone to cap the two-play drive and set the stage for Warley's first miss.
"I'm happy the kids never gave in," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "This game tells you a lot about our kids. It was a great win."
The Orangemen (4-6, 2-3) held the ball for slightly more than 52 minutes, compared to just under 23 for the Hokies. They also outgained Virginia Tech, 604 yards to 559.
Since losing four straight, Syracuse has won three in a row. But it needs victories over Boston College and unbeaten Miami in its final two games to avoid its first losing season since 1986.