Greg Paulus' debut at quarterback for Syracuse lacked only the storybook ending.
Eric Ellestad kicked a 35-yard field goal in overtime Saturday to give Minnesota a 23-20 victory over the Orange, who failed to score in the extra session when Paulus threw his lone interception on an ill-advised pass.
Paulus got off to a strong start in his first football game since 2004, but his turnover on a third-and-5 play on the first possession of OT gave the Gophers a chance to win.
"I shouldn't make that throw," Paulus said. "I was trying to make a play. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't. I should have thrown the ball in the back of the end zone and kicked the field goal."
Paulus guided Syracuse to a 20-14 lead at the break but failed to convert any of the Orange's eight third-down tries in the second half.
"We had some opportunities to put them away and we just didn't get it done offensively," Paulus said. "And that's on me."
Still, in his first college football game after playing point guard for four seasons at Duke, Paulus made plenty of positive plays. He was 19-for-31 for 167 yards and one touchdown.
"I would have liked a better outcome," said Paulus, just 7-for-14 for 39 yards in the second half after the Minnesota defense adjusted. "That pick, I shouldn't make that mistake. I'll be kicking myself for a little bit thinking about that one. But playing football is awesome. It's so much fun. I can't tell you the joy I get. To play here is phenomenal."
Paulus had not played competitive football since he was honored as 2004 national player of the year at Christian Brothers Academy in suburban Syracuse. New coach Doug Marrone, who played for the Orange in the mid-1980s, made Paulus the starter less than two weeks into preseason camp, and he felt good about the decision despite the outcome of the opener.
"It (the interception) was a poor decision," Marrone said. "I'll rely on him to make the right decision. I have a lot of trust in him."
Adam Weber was 19-for-42 for 248 yards and one touchdown and Eric Decker had nine catches for 183 yards to lead Minnesota.
Until his ill-fated throw, Paulus showed great poise for somebody who had never played the position in college, and the Orange's revamped offensive line provided adequate protection.
Paulus, who received an NCAA waiver to play football with his one remaining year of athletic eligibility, seemed at home after the Orange's first snap of the game sailed way over his head and led to a quick Minnesota touchdown. He looked off defenders and scrambled when he had to, displaying the flair that made him a record-setting high school quarterback five years ago.
With Syracuse trailing 14-3 late in the first quarter, Paulus electrified the near-capacity crowd of 48,617, which included former Syracuse star Donovan McNabb, with his first collegiate scoring pass.
Facing a second-and-6 from the Minnesota 29, Paulus fooled three defenders with a pump fake and hit a wide-open Mike Williams near the goal line to move the Orange within 14-10. It marked the 10th straight game Williams has had a TD catch, a school record and the best mark in the nation.
Not even penalties seemed to faze Paulus. Despite a false start and a hold against the Orange late in the second quarter, he guided Syracuse 67 yards in eight plays, accounting for all but 10 yards with four completions in four attempts to set up Delone Carter's 1-yard touchdown run.
That gave the Orange, who were 10-37 in the previous four years under Greg Robinson, a rare 20-14 halftime lead. Syracuse scored 20 or more points in a game only eight times under Robinson.
The game started badly for the Orange. Center Jim McKenzie's first snap sailed over Paulus' head and was recovered by Minnesota's Cedric McKinley at the Syracuse 16. Two plays later, Duane Bennett scored untouched on a 16-yard run around the right side.
Ellestad forced overtime with a 26-yard field goal with 57 seconds left after a lob by Weber for Decker in the right corner of the end zone sailed high.
"This was exactly what I expected it to be," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "Syracuse is a tough place to play. We didn't do everything right by any means, but I'm excited that we found a way to win."