One drive, one turnover, one trick play. Those three things were all Syracuse needed as they pitched a 13-0 shutout on Saturday over Wake Forest at the Carrier Dome. The win not only evened out the Orange record at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the ACC, bit it also nudged them within two games of bowl eligibility with four games left on their schedule.
To be fair, a fourth factor contributed to the SU win, as the Demon Deacons (4-5, 2-4) lost star wide receiver Michael Campanaro for the game just over five minutes into the first quarter with what was reported as a dislocated collarbone. With the visitors’ top offensive threat on the shelf, the Syracuse defense was able to capitalize, giving up only 213 yards and 4-of-18 third down conversions in the game.
Perhaps in honor of Halloween, both teams’ offensive performance in the first half was simply gruesome. Neither team mustered a true scoring threat, often hurting themselves with penalties. Only one possession ended in a manner other than a punt, which came when Wake Forest had the half run out on them deep in their own end of the field. Both teams combined for 14 punts in the first half, a number matched by the combined total of first downs they posted.
Syracuse opened the second half with the best drive of the game, marching 75 yards in 14 plays to get on the board just over six minutes into the third quarter. Terrel Hunt capped the drive by diving into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown run. Backup punter Jonathan Fisher, who was pressed into service with Ryan Norton suspended for the game, booted the extra point to give the Orange a 7-0 lead. Two plays after each team filed a three-and-out, SU freshman defensive end Isaiah Johnson turned in a spectacular play, leaping up to bat a Wake Forest pass, then sprinting and diving to intercept it with the ball just inches off the turf.
The Orange quickly took advantage of the momentum change with some deception. On the first play from scrimmage from the Demon Deacon 25, Hunt handed off to Jerome Smith, who tossed the ball to Jarrod West on a reverse. As he approached the line of scrimmage, West reached back and tossed the ball, which landed in the arms of a wide-open Brisly Estime in the end zone for a touchdown. Fisher’s extra point attempt was blocked, leaving SU in control by a 13-0 score with over six minutes left in the quarter.
After the defense forced a pair of punts, Syracuse threatened to score again. When SU started a drive at their own nine, Prince-Tyson Gulley flipped the field, using a hesitation move in the backfield to create a crease, then exploded for a 67-yard run to close the third quarter. The Orange chewed up some more yards, reaching the Wake three-yard-line, but a fake field goal failed when holder Charley Loeb was stopped at the one, giving the ball back to the visitors. It was no matter, though, as the SU defense permitted the Demon Deacons to drive no further than the Orange 45 on any of their three possessions in the fourth.
Terrel Hunt had a solid, but unspectacular day guiding the Orange offense, connecting on 18-of-30 passes for 144 yards. Prince-Tyson Gulley topped the SU ground game with 85 yards, 67 of them coming on one play. Jerome Smith added 62 yards to the run attack. Brisly Estime had a career day, catching nine passes for 62 yards to lead the team in both categories. He also caught a touchdown pass from fellow wide receiver Jarrod West.
In addition to his interception that set up the second Orange touchdown of the day, Isaiah Johnson added a half sack to the most impressive effort of his freshman season. Marquis Spruill split that sack with Johnson and Jay Bromley picked up the seventh sack of his season, tops on the team and fourth in the ACC.
Syracuse can move one step closer to bowl eligibility next Saturday when they visit Maryland. The Terrapins (5-3, 1-3), who are off this week, have dropped their last two games and three of four overall. Kickoff is slated for 3:30pm Eastern and will be televised on affiliates of the ACC Regional Network (check your local listings), as well as streamed online at ESPN3.com.