It was far from easy, but the Syracuse football team has won the first three games of the season for the first time since 1991.
Quarterback Eric Dungey got knocked out of the game in the second quarter after a vicious late hit on what would turn out to be a touchdown pass. While mixing and matching quarterbacks over the remainder of the game, the SU offense would get zero first downs in the second half. As a result, the Orange defense spent over 21 minutes of the second half on the field. On a warm day in a stagnant Carrier Dome, that defense ended up giving up 520 yards of offense.
All that considered, the tired defense made a couple big plays late in the game and their offensive counterparts made a first down in overtime that set up a four-yard touchdown run from Jordan Fredericks that gave Syracuse a 30-27 overtime win and their first 3-0 start in almost a quarter century. The loss dropped the Chippewas to 1-2 on the season.
Both teams started off with a three-and-out, but CMU was able to move into the red zone on their second possession before the Orange defense stiffened. The Chippewas settled for a 34-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead just over six minutes into the action.
SU put together a long drive highlighted by an option run where Dungey gained eight yards, then pitched the ball to Fredericks as he was going to the ground. The freshman running back caught the ball cleanly and rambled another 36 yards to the CMU 10. The Orange would advance to the three-yard-line before knotting the score on Cole Murphy’s 21-yard field goal with just over four minutes left in the first quarter.
Central Michigan responded with another nice drive before trying a 51-yard field goal. The line drive kick had enough leg behind it, but it clunked off the right upright and fell back into the end zone. Syracuse went for the big play following the missed field goal and got it when Dungey connected on a deep ball with Steve Ishmael for a 62-yard gain to the visitors’ four-yard-line. Dungey carried the ball in on the next play and Murphy connected on the extra point for a 10-3 lead with 11 seconds remaining in the opening period.
The Chippewas got a pair of first downs on their next drive, but the Orange defense forced a punt that went for a touchback. SU’s offense picked up right where it left off.
Following an offside penalty on the first play, Dungey scrambled through the CMU defense for 31 yards. Fredericks ate up 19 yards on two runs. Dungey then dropped to pass, scrambled to stay alive, and dumped the ball off to Dontae Strickland. Strickland weaved through the CMU defense, going 25 yards for a touchdown.
Behind the play, however, Dungey was hit late, taking a shoulder to the head from a Central Michigan linebacker. The defender was flagged for a personal foul and ejected from the game. Dungey remained on the Carrier Dome turf for a couple minutes before being helped to his feet and walking off under his own power.
Murphy added the extra point to boost the Orange lead to 17-3 with 9:20 left in the second quarter.
Central Michigan responded with their first touchdown drive of the day, marching 75 yards in nine plays for the score. The extra point cut the Syracuse lead to seven.
Austin Wilson entered the game at quarterback on the next Orange drive, which earned only a first down before being forced to punt. Riley Dixon got off a great punt, pinning the Chippewas at their own five-yard-line and the SU defense turned in a great set of downs, forcing a punt that set up the offense at the CMU 41.
Wilson got a great sideline catch from Brisly Estime on the first play of the drive, getting a 22-yard completion to get SU in the red zone. Two plays later, walk-on quarterback Zach Mahoney ran the option to gain a dozen yards. Two plays after that, Jamal Custis scored his first touchdown for Syracuse when he used a single hand to snare a seven-yard scoring toss from Wilson on the fade route in the corner of the end zone. With 1:11 left in the half, Murphy booted the extra point for a 24-10 lead.
With the help of a personal foul flag on the Orange, CMU would start to threaten on their last drive of the half, but a poor shotgun snap short-circuited their drive and forced a punt before half. SU opted to run the ball once from deep in their end of the field, then let the clock run out with their 14-point lead.
Syracuse spent the second half mixing-and-matching their quarterbacks, but it gave Central Michigan an advantage as Wilson was proving to be more of a passer and Mahoney’s presence tipping off the run. Following an SU three-and out that started the half, the Chippewas marched for a touchdown and trailed by a 24-17 margin with six minutes off the clock.
Once more, the Orange offense could not move the chains and Dixon came out to punt. This time, a soaring rocket off his foot went for 60 yards, pinning the visitors inside their ten, and after a delay of game flag when the returner tried to run after signaling for a fair catch, CMU started at their own 4.
The Chippewa offense turned into a turf- and clock-eating machine. They earned four first downs and ate up the remaining seven minutes of the third quarter, reaching the Syracuse 10. After third-and-two became third-and-seven on an illegal shift infraction to start the fourth quarter, the Orange defense finally made a big play.
Ron Thompson rushed the quarterback and sacked him, jarring the football free. Parris Bennett recovered the loose ball for the Orange at the SU 32, giving a jolt to the Carrier Dome crowd.
The SU offense opted to try to take advantage on the first play following the sudden change, calling on Wilson to throw a deep ball down the middle of the field. The pass was slightly underthrown, however, and CMU intercepted at their own 29, bringing the Orange defense back out on the turf.
Luke Arciniega ended the Chippewas’ drive, though. After the defense permitted a first down to the visitors, Arciniega notched a sack for a loss of seven, then two plays later hurried the quarterback into an incompletion and the offense into a punt.
SU took over at their own 23 and had a disastrous set of downs that included a holding penalty, a pass that lost seven yards, and a sack. The ensuing Orange punt got a fortuitous bounce and set up CMU at their own 39 with 9:15 on the clock.
The Chippewas converted a fourth-and-one at midfield then tacked on another first down before the Orange defense blunted their drive with another big play. Zaire Franklin picked off a CMU pass and returned it 21 yards to midfield, giving Syracuse the ball with 4:33 to play.
SU could not move the sticks and ended up downing a punt at the CMU 10 with 2:17 remaining. Armed with a pair of timeouts, that was more than enough time on the clock.
CMU completed six straight passes to start their drive, and those completions moved them to the SU 32 with a minute left on the clock when they used their first stoppage. The Orange defense rose to the occasion, notching a quarterback hurry to force an incompletion and snuffing out a draw play to set up fourth-and-four for the Chippewas. After each team took a time out, Central Michigan got a six-yard pass to stay alive.
Following an incompletion, Arciniega came up with another sack, this one costing CMU seven yards. As both teams lined up with the clock running and Central Michigan unable to stop the clock, Syracuse called time out. Following the game, head coach Scott Shafer explained the decision by saying that the defense was confused and he wanted to ensure his defensive squad was on the same page.
The decision allowed the Chippewas to also get things in order. The Central Michigan quarterback was unable to find a receiver in the pocket, then rolled out to his right. With the play devolved into playground football, CMU got a scoring pass with seven seconds remaining, then the extra point that tied the game at 24 a side.
The Orange downed out the remaining seconds, opting to go to overtime. SU then won the coin toss and opted to play defense, which would allow the offense to know what was required for victory.
The decision worked out. After CMU ran inside the ten on the first play, the SU defense stiffened their backs, snuffing out a third-and-goal run from the one. The Chippewas opted for the chip shot field goal and a 27-24 lead.
SU went with Mahoney at quarterback and he made a big play on third-and-five, connecting with Kendall Moore for a 13-yard completion. Two plays later, Fredericks carried the ball into the end zone from four yards out, giving the Orange a 30-27 victory.
On a day where Syracuse had a balanced attack (165 rush yards, 161 pass yards), Jordan Fredericks was the top runner of the day, finishing with 73 yards on 11 carries to go with the winning score. With three quarterbacks combining for a stat line of 11-of-17 for 161 yards, nine different players caught a pass, led by Steve Ishmael’s 62-yard reception.
While the Orange defense was picked apart underneath for 430 passing yards, their pressure got there enough to total four sacks as part of ten tackles for loss. Both Luke Arciniega and Ron Thompson got a pair of sacks on the day with the latter adding an additional tackle for loss. Linebackers Parris Bennett (ten) and Zaire Franklin (nine) led the team in stops and each added a turnover. Bennett had a fumble recovery and Franklin an interception.
With Eric Dungey’s status up in the air, the Orange will face their toughest test of the season next week when their four-game homestand closes with LSU coming to town. The #13 Tigers are 2-0 on the season, having routed #18 Auburn at home on Saturday, 45-21. Star running back Leonard Fournette led the way for the Bayou Bengals over Auburn, piling up 228 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns.
Kickoff at the Carrier Dome is slated for noon on Saturday with either ESPN or ABC to provide the television coverage (announced Monday).