The 17-16 final score had to be a frustrating one for Syracuse. The Orange (5-6, 3-4 ACC) not only lost a game where a win would have secured bowl eligibility, but they held Pittsburgh to 239 yards on offense and forced a pair of turnovers while not gifting the ball back. With the victory, the Panthers (6-5, 3-4) accomplished what SU could not, reaching bowl eligibility.
Not only did Syracuse fail to cash in a late scoring opportunity, they tipped their hand when Pitt called a timeout, revealing the their intent to attempt a fake field goal with a pass to an uncovered receiver. Following the time out, SU opted to have their offense take the field, but a pass failed, clinching the win for the Panthers.
The Orange defense answered the bell, forcing a three-and-out to start the game. Syracuse’s offense kept the momentum going on their first possession, needing just four running plays to eat up 67 yards and score a touchdown. Jerome Smith had the honors, ripping through a crease on the left side of the line for a 36-yard burst. The extra point was blocked, but SU still held a 6-0 lead less then three minutes into the game.
Following a punt from each team, Pitt put together a long drive, earning a first-and-goal at the Orange three-yard-line. Linebacker Cameron Lynch, however, atoned for failing to secure a fumble earlier in the drive by notching sacks on both first and third down. The Panthers settled for a 43-yard field goal to halve the lead at 6-3 just over 90 seconds into the second quarter.
After each team filed a three-and-out, Syracuse was able to string together a pair of first downs, but once again had to punt. The Panthers struck back, marching 70 yards for a touchdown and the lead. The extra point put Pitt out front with just over three minutes on the clock by a 10-6 margin. SU got another pair of first downs on the ensuing drive, but the offense bogged down and the punting unit gave the ball back to Pitt with under a minute to go.
The Panthers’ possession was short-lived, though, as Lewellyn Coker forced a fumble on the return. Ritchy Desir scooped up the ball to give the Orange the ball at the Pitt 24 with 35 seconds on the clock. The Orange came close to a touchdown on two different plays. The first was when a pass danced off Devante McFarlane’s fingers in the end zone on the first down. The second came two plays later when, while lined up as a wide receiver, safety Durell Eskridge’s diving effort in the end zone was ruled incomplete, as he could not secure the ball while sliding out of bounds. SU settled for Ryan Norton blasting a 41-yard field goal through the uprights on a line to cut the deficit to 10-9.
On the second drive of the third quarter, Syracuse scored on another big play, this time when Terrel Hunt connected with Alvin Cornelius on a spectacular 42-yard touchdown pass. Cornelius had to dive for the ball, but secured it as he came to the ground to cap the five-play, 62-yard drive with a score. Norton tacked on the extra point and SU was on top, 16-10, just past the midpoint of the third quarter.
The Orange defense used the momentum, starting the ensuing Pitt drive with a sack and forcing a quick punt. The Panthers’ next possession was far more effective, moving 88 yards in just nine plays, helped by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty call against SU, for a touchdown. The extra point nudged Pitt back out front, 17-16, as the third quarter ended.
Syracuse could not sustain their opening drive of the fourth quarter and punted, but got the ball right back when Luke Arciniega collected a tipped pass for an interception at the SU 49. The Orange worked the ball down to the Panthers’ 24, but Ryan Norton’s 41-yard field goal attempt was pushed right, keeping the visitors in front with under nine minutes left on the clock.
After the two squads combined to punt on their next three drives, SU took over at their own 44 with 2:36 remaining. The Orange faced a 4th-and-eight at the Pitt 36 and sent in the field goal unit. The Panthers called time out just before the snap, but Syracuse continued to play, revealing their intent to fake the field goal by passing to a receiver left alone on the sideline. With their cards shown, SU opted to send their offense out and run a play, but Hunt’s pass fell incomplete, giving Pitt the ball with a minute to go. The Panthers downed the ball twice, emptying the clock and securing the win.
Terrel Hunt completed 18-of-28 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, his first scoring pass in conference play. Jerome Smith was the primary ballcarrier, racking up 88 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes. Ashton Broyld led the receiver corps with six catches.
Cameron Lynch had a strong day on defense, collecting 11 tackles, three of which for loss, including two sacks. Durell Eskridge topped the Orange with a dozen stops and Marquis Spruill had a sack. Luke Arciniega had an interception and Ritchy Desir recovered a fumble forced by Lewellyn Coker.
Syracuse enters their regular season finale next Saturday against Boston College with another chance to secure bowl eligibility. The Eagles (7-4, 4-3) carry a four-game win streak into the matchup. BC is led by Andre Williams, who has run for 1,810 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Williams has amassed 200 yards in a game five times this season, including his last three games, and piled up a 339-yard effort against North Carolina State.
The game will start at 3:30pm Eastern and will be televised by the ACC Regional Sports Network, as well as online at ESPN3.com.