Second half surge leads Syracuse past Wake Forest

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Syracuse moved to 2-0 on the season

In the entire 2014 season, Syracuse had a total of four offensive plays that gained at least 50 yards from scrimmage. Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome, they got two plays of at least 53 yards in under six minutes, both of which went for touchdowns, to power a 30-17 comeback victory over Wake Forest in the ACC opener for both squads.

The Orange win moves them to 2-0 for the second straight season and also marks consecutive campaigns where they have defeated the Demon Deacons (1-1).

While Wake gave the SU defense fits at times, that unit got their revenge with a couple fistfuls of big plays – three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown in the second quarter, and four quarterback sacks. In fact, pressuring the quarterback was the key for Syracuse, as they piled up six quarterback hits to go with the four sacks and the first two Orange picks could be traced directly to pressure on the quarterback.

Linebackers Marquez Hodge and Parris Bennett set up his offensive teammates with great field position for their second drive of the day. Hodge got to the Wake Forest quarterback, forcing a poor pass that Bennett intercepted and returned to the Demon Deacons’ 37.

» Related: Syracuse rallies in second half for win

The Orange gained one first down before settling for a 35-yard field goal try from Cole Murphy. His kick from the left hashmark went through the middle of the uprights to give SU a 3-0 lead with just over four minutes left in the opening quarter.

Wake Forest struck back quickly, using a couple long passes as the backbone of a scoring drive, the touchdown coming on a 40-yard completion. The extra point put the visitors in front, 7-3, with 2:31 showing on the clock.

On the first play following the kickoff, George Morris racked up 34 yards on the ground, moving the Orange back into Wake territory. The Orange would gain another first down, but settle for a 39-yard field goal from Murphy, this one from the right hash, to clip the deficit to 7-6 on the second play of the second quarter.

Two plays later, the Syracuse defense provided a big jolt to the Carrier Dome crowd. Zaire Franklin blew into the Demon Deacon backfield, forcing an errant pass that defensive end Donnie Simmons, who had dropped back into coverage, caught cleanly and returned 41 yards for a touchdown. Murphy’s extra point kick gave SU ten points in a 44-second span and a 13-7 lead.

Wake Forest righted their ship, efficiently marching down the field for a touchdown. The conversion put them back in front by a 14-13 margin with 9:20 left in the second quarter. The Demon Deacons would add a field goal onto their side of the ledger with eight seconds before halftime and had a 17-13 lead at intermission.

The visitors received the opening kickoff of the second half and had a chance to extend their lead by another three points, but missed a 50-yard field goal, giving possession to the Orange. Syracuse quickly went three-and-out, but the defense also forced a punt, setting up the SU offense at their own 11-yard-line.

On the first play after taking possession, Eric Dungey avoided the Wake pass rush and hit Brisly Estime with a pass at the SU 38. Estime avoided a tackle and took off, winning the race to the end zone for an 89-yard touchdown reception. Murphy booted the extra point and the Orange were in front, 20-17, with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.

On the next Orange possession, Dungey continued his sharp play, hitting Kendall Moore for a 21-yard pass. Two plays later, Dungey zipped a pass to Steve Ishmael on the sideline and the wideout eluded one tackle, then streaked down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown. Murphy connected on the extra point to push the Syracuse lead into double digits at 27-17.

From that point on, the Orange defense went into shutdown mode, forcing a pair of three-and-outs, and their offensive counterparts went into clock-killing mode, running the ball to leak out the clock. On their second possession with a ten-point lead, SU took advantage of a shanked punt by earning a couple first downs and tacking on another Murphy field goal, this one from 20 yards away. With 1:47 left in the game, Syracuse held a 30-17 lead.

Wake quickly moved down to the Syracuse 25, but Corey Winfield snuffed out the drive by picking off a pass in the end zone with 28 seconds left on the clock.

Eric Dungey completed 8-of-13 passes for 221 yards, doing most of the damage (142 yards) on the two long touchdown passes. Brisly Estime and Kendall Moore each snared a pair of passes, Estime gaining a personal-best 98 yards to lead the team, including an 89-yard touchdown catch, which is the third-longest in Syracuse history. Six different ballcarriers contributed to the Orange’s 149 rushing yards.

The Orange defense proved to be very tough on the ground for the second straight game, permitting only 46 rushing yards on 32 carries. Parris Bennett (team-high eight tackles), Donnie Simmons, and Corey Winfield all had interceptions in the game. Luke Arciniega had a pair of quarterback sacks while Antwan Cordy and Ron Thompson each dropped the opposing quarterback once.

Next Saturday, SU will again be in action at the Carrier Dome when they welcome Central Michigan for a 12:30pm kickoff that will be available regionally on television and online through ESPN3.com. The Chippewas followed up a hard-fought 24-13 loss at Oklahoma State in their opener by hammering Monmouth in their home opener, 31-10, to even their record at 1-1. Quarterback Cooper Rush had a monster game for CMU, throwing for 328 yards and three scores.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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