Seeing how Syracuse did not secure bowl eligibility until there were six seconds left in their schedule, it makes perfect sense that they did not secure a bowl victory until no time remained on the clock. In fact, it was a few seconds after the clock hit zero when a last-ditch pass fell harmlessly to the sideline paint, allowing the Orange to claim a 21-17 victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston, their third bowl win in four seasons.
It was not just that SU (7-6) barely held on for the win, but they led for a large portion of the game, falling behind when the Golden Gophers (8-5) scored two touchdowns to take their first lead early in the fourth quarter. After failing to score on two drives deep into Gopher territory, Syracuse needed a 70-yard punt return from Brisly Estime to get into scoring position, then a scramble from Texas Bowl MVP Terrel Hunt for a 12-yard touchdown to take the lead with 1:14 to play.
The Orange defense started the contest with a three-and-out, but their offensive counterparts were sloppy, submarining an otherwise effective drive by committing a false start penalty and fumbling twice on the opening possession. The second loose ball went to Minnesota, ending a potential threat.
The Golden Gophers gave the ball back five plays later with some sloppy play of their own, botching the handoff on a jet sweep. Micah Robinson dove onto the ball, setting up SU at their own 49. The Orange used a 22-yard pass to Ashton Broyld to get into field goal range, but opted for a fake. Holder Charley Loeb ran the option, but was stopped two yards shy of a first down.
Minnesota’s ensuing drive was sustained by an SU offsides flag on an early third-and-one, but Jay Bromley snuffed out the possession with his tenth quarterback sack of the season on the final play of the first quarter.
Following the Gophers’ punt, Syracuse ground out 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Jerome Smith crashed into the end zone from a yard out to cap the drive and get the Orange on the board. Ryan Norton tacked on the extra point to make the score 7-0 with just over ten minutes left before halftime.
Following a punt from each team, Minnesota drove for their only score of the half. The Gophers advanced as far as the SU 24, but were moved backwards and settled for a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the half, sending the game to the break with Syracuse on top, 7-3.
After each team posted two first downs and punted to the opponent, the Orange marched for another score. SU ate up nearly six minutes of clock as they ground out 86 yards in 15 plays. Jerome Smith (19 yards) and George Morris II (17 yards) each had big runs on the drive, but Terrel Hunt carried the ball in for the score, scooting into the end zone from five yards out. Norton’s extra point strengthened the Syracuse grip on the scoreboard to 14-3 with under three minutes left in the third period.
The Golden Gophers responded with their strongest play of the night, wrapping their next two drives, both scores, around an Orange three-and-out. The first tally came on the first play of the fourth quarter in the form of a 20-yard touchdown pass. Having closed within 14-9, Minnesota tried a two-point conversion to get within a field goal, but Ri’Shard Anderson’s corner blitz hit its mark, tackling the Gophers’ quarterback to keep the SU lead at five points.
Following a quick Orange punt, Minnesota exploited a busted coverage in the Syracuse defensive backfield and connected on a 55-yard bomb for another touchdown, this one giving them a one-point lead. The Gophers were successful in their second attempt at a two-point conversion and held a 17-14 lead with 12:34 left in regulation.
SU’s ensuing drive had a great start, but bogged down once they reached scoring position. With a third-and-six at the Minnesota 20, the Orange committed a pair of penalties, first a false start, then intentional grounding. The infractions moved Syracuse out of field goal range, forcing them to punt with just over eight minutes left on the clock.
The Orange defense forced a quick punt to get the ball back and, once again, the SU offense moved the ball. A 21-yard pass from Hunt to Brisly Estime earned a first down and a pair of runs moved the ball to the Gophers’ 27-yard-line. Scott Shafer sent out Norton to try a career long 45-yard field goal, but the ball stayed just outside the right upright, leaving Syracuse still on the short end of a 17-14 score with 3:31 to go.
After permitting a Minnesota first down, the SU defense made a stand. The Orange used their second time out of the half before a third-and-five play, then after Robert Welsh sacked the Gohpers’ quarterback, Syracuse called their last time out to stop the clock with 2:03 remaining.
Minnesota got off a booming punt, but the kick sailed well beyond the coverage unit. Estime collected the ball at the SU 16, then exploded upfield with a head of steam. Only the punter could stop the freshman wideout, tripping him up at the Gophers’ 14-yard-line with 1:44 on the clock.
Prince-Tyson Gulley ate up half the remaining yards on first down. After no gain on second down, the Orange gave back five yards with a false start penalty, the team’s ninth infraction of the night.
On third-and-eight from the Minnesota 12, Hunt took the snap and stood in the pocket, waiting for a receiver to break free. After a couple seconds, Hunt spotted not an open teammate downfield, but a sea of grass in front of him. Hunt took off down the middle of the field, darting into the end zone untouched for a touchdown with 1:14 to play. Norton converted the extra point, putting the Orange on top by a 21-17 margin and forcing Minnesota to score a touchdown to win.
When the Gophers started their ensuing drive at their own 30, Marquis Spruill delivered a big blow to their hopes. The senior linebacker and team co-captain burst into the backfield cleanly, burying the Minnesota quarterback for a ten-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, Minnesota connected on two tosses to buy a new set of downs at midfield.
Just as on the previous set of downs, the Orange came up with a sack, this time with Cameron Lynch making the big defensive play. Minnesota called their final time out to stop the clock and regroup. Two plays later, the Gophers had another first down, this one at the SU 39 with 12 seconds left.
On first down, Minnesota spiked the ball to stop the clock with one second leaking off the clock. On second down, they nearly spiked the Orange hopes for a bowl win.
SU cornerback Brandon Reddish was right with the Gophers’ wide receiver on a deep pass, but missed what should have been an easy deflection of the pass. He may have, however, been a distraction, as the ball slid right through the receiver’s hands and hit the ground for an incompletion.
With four seconds left, Minnesota opted for another deep ball. The throw sailed into a crowd of players just outside the end zone and was deflected toward the sideline. With the clock reading 0:00, the football thudded on the white paint, preserving the win for Syracuse.
Terrel Hunt continued his strong play to close the season and was deserving of MVP honors. Hunt completed 19-of-29 passes for 188 yards, added two scores on the ground, and also tied for the team lead with 74 yards on the ground, amassing that total on 15 carries. Jerome Smith matched Hunt’s 74 yards on 16 carries and also had a touchdown in his final game for SU. In addition to his 70-yard punt return that set up the winning score, Brisly Estime topped all Orange receivers with five catches for 47 yards. Jarrod West shared team high honors with five receptions.
Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch topped the Syracuse defense with eight tackles each and Lynch had one of four sacks in the game. Jay Bromley, Marquis Spruill, and Robert Welsh each had one sack in the game, as well. Micah Robinson recorded the lone turnover in the game, recovering a fumble.