Up and down and up and down and way, way up. It’s crude, grammatically incorrect, and the best way to describe the final 19 minutes of Syracuse’s 34-31 win over Boston College that secured bowl eligibility for the Orange. From the moment SU (6-6, 4-4 ACC) took the lead on a field goal late in the third quarter, they ran through the gamut of emotions, lastly going from the lowest of lows following a crippling interception with under three minutes to play to the highest of highs when Josh Parris waltzed into the end zone on the receiving end of a slick weak side screen pass to put Syracuse on top with six seconds remaining.
The Orange offense, which had struggled so often over the course of the season, was remarkably effective throughout the game, rolling up 480 yards of offense on the Eagles (7-5, 4-4). It was led by Terrel Hunt, the inexperienced quarterback who had thrown his lone touchdown pass in ACC play last week. Hunt showed miles of improvement over what he had shown through most of the season, rolling up 360 total yards of total offense and three scores in the best effort of his young career. Hunt also showed plenty of resolve, bouncing back from a tough interception late in the game to direct SU on the winning drive.
After each team started with a punt, Syracuse strung together a drive, keyed by Terrel Hunt connecting with Alvin Cornelius on a 31-yard pass. The Orange got as far as the BC 13, but Ryan Norton’s 30-yard field goal from the right hashmark never came back, staying outside the upright.
Following the SU defense forcing a three-and-out, SU again drove deep into the Eagles’ territory, mostly due to a 32-yard hookup between Hunt and Brisly Estime. Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer opted to go for it from two yards out, but a power run play was stuffed, handing the ball back to Boston College with four minutes to go in the first.
A deep pass flipped the field in the Eagles’ favor and two plays later, BC was in the end zone on a 26-yard run by Andre Williams, who entered the game with over 2,000 rushing yards on the season. The extra point was good, staking Boston College to a 7-0 lead, but it was also the lone significant play by Williams, who left the game in the third quarter due to an apparent shoulder injury after gaining only 29 yards on nine carries.
The Orange struck back on the ensuing possession, using 15 plays to grind out 75 yards to get on the board. Josh Parris got into the end zone on a pass from Hunt from a yard out and Norton tacked on the extra point to make it 7-7 just over four minutes into the second quarter.
The SU offense had a little time to recover from that long drive, as Cameron Lynch quickly ended the Eagles’ next drive with an interception, setting up the Orange at midfield. Nine plays later, George Morris II darted in from four yards out for an SU touchdown. Norton connected on the conversion and Syracuse was on top, 14-7, with just over six minutes remaining until halftime.
After another BC three-and-out, the Orange again scored on a nine-play, 50-yard drive. Hunt took sole honors this time, scampering into the end zone from a yard out. Norton tacked on the extra point, extending the SU lead to 21-7 with just over a minute left until halftime.
Boston College made use of that little bit of time, quickly scoring a touchdown to get within 21-14 at intermission. The Eagles bookended halftime by marching for another touchdown, knotting the game at 21 a side just over five minutes out of the break.
Upon taking the field again, the Syracuse offense patched together another scoring drive, grinding out 50 yards before bogging down at the BC 25. Ryan Norton came out and booted a 42-yard field goal to put the Orange in front again at 24-21 with 3:44 left on the clock. That was the peak of the first hill of the Syracuse emotional roller coaster.
Following a punt from each team, Boston College sent SU and their fans reeling. Six plays after he ripped off a 54-yard run, quarterback Chase Rettig scooted in from a yard out, putting the Eagles back on top at 28-24 midway through the final quarter.
The first play of the following drive pushed the Orange emotions even lower. Instead of batting the ball to the ground, Hunt plucked a tipped pass out of the air and was tackled for a 16-yard loss. No matter, as Hunt showed his resilience by hitting Quinta Funderburk on the following play for a 28-yard pass. The drive continued to the BC 26 before flaming out. Norton converted another field goal, this one from 44 yards out, to buoy SU’s hopes and get back within a single point at 28-27 with 5:03 on the clock.
Once more the Syracuse defense rose up and forced a quick punt. This time, Hunt suffered a setback, rifling an interception into the arms of a Boston College defender with 2:49 on the clock.
One play later, the Eagles were at the SU five-yard-line. The Syracuse defense answered the bell one more time and, between the Orange employing their time outs and a big hit to send a BC receiver out of bounds on third down, forced a field goal attempt. The kick was good from 21 yards away, extending the Boston College lead to 31-27 with 2:08 to play.
The SU offense took the field at their 25 following a touchback. Three plays later, the Orange were at the Eagles’ 45. One play after a pass interference flag moved SU to the BC 33, Hunt scrambled and was stripped of the ball, which spun through the air. Center Macky MacPherson pounced on the loose ball at the 25, retaining possession for Syracuse.
Hunt snuck through the line on the next play to get a first down at the 22, then, following a Boston College time out, threw an incompletion. On the next play, Hunt found Cornelius for 14 yards, setting up the Orange with first-and-goal eight yards away from the end zone with 12 seconds to play.
They would only need half that.
On first down, Hunt went to the right, following the flow of his offense. He stopped and turned back to his left, then floated a pass to Parris, who was camped behind the line of scrimmage with two blockers in front of him. Parris caught the ball and rumbled into the end zone, sending the Carrier Dome into a frenzy with six seconds on the clock.
Norton came onto the field and booted the extra point, staking SU to a 34-31 lead. Following the kickoff, BC only had a single second left from their own 26. The Eagles ran the hook-and-ladder play, but the ball fell to the ground on the first attempted lateral and the resulting scrum for possession ended the game and ensured the Orange of bowl eligibility.
Terrel Hunt had a career day, connecting on 29-of-43 passes for 270 yards with a pair of scores and an interception. Hunt also led the ground game, rolling up 90 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. Alvin Cornelius and Josh Parris had breakout games, topping the receivers with seven catches apiece. Cornelius led the team with 81 receiving yards while Parris snagged both touchdown tosses from Hunt. Ashton Broyld chipped in with six grabs.
True freshman Marquez Hodge led the SU defense with seven stops on the day. Cameron Lynch had the lone turnover, collecting an interception.
Syracuse now waits, hoping their bowl eligibility will result in a bowl invitation. With the win, the Orange are the 11th team in the Atlantic Coast Conference to become bowl eligible. The ACC has nine bowl commitments and, pending the outcome of their conference title game against Duke next Saturday, the possibility exists that Florida State will play in the BCS championship game, meaning a tenth ACC team would have a guaranteed bowl berth. There are other conferences that cannot fulfill their bowl commitments, thereby creating vacancies that SU (or the 11th ACC bowl eligible team) may be able to fill.
In short, the Orange will know their bowl future, if there is one, by the end of next weekend.