Heading into the season, the prospect of Syracuse having their first bye week come right after the opener was not generally viewed as a positive. After the Orange eked out a 27-26 double overtime win at home over FCS foe Villanova, in which starting quarterback Terrel Hunt was ejected for punching a player in the second quarter, the extra week to prepare gives them a lot of time to fix many ills.
The Wildcats (0-1) looked like the superior team for much of the night, holding the ball for nearly 38 minutes of regulation. SU (1-0), on the other hand, needed a touchdown pass from punter Riley Dixon on a fake field goal in the second overtime to take the lead, then stop Villanova’s two-point conversion attempt to escape with the victory.
The Wildcats opening drive moved the ball into Syracuse territory, but Cameron Lynch blunted the effort with a sack, forcing a punt that had SU backed up to their own four. After Villanova was penalized for running into the kicker to extend the first Orange possession, the SU offense showed some big-play capability. Terrel Hunt hit Ashton Broyld with a 20-yard touch pass, then Prince-Tyson Gulley rocketed untouched for a 65-yard touchdown run. Ryan Norton tacked on the extra point to put Syracuse in front, 7-0, less then nine minutes into the game.
The Wildcats took control of the game after that. After their next drive ended with a missed 34-yard field goal, they forced the SU offense into a quick three-and-out, then drove 60 yards for a touchdown. The extra point knotted the score at seven a side less than five minutes into the second quarter. Hunt responded with an effective drive, connecting on 6-of-9 passes to move the Orange into field goal range. When the Syracuse offense bogged down, Norton salvaged some points by connecting on a 38-yard field goal that put SU in front by a 10-7 margin with just under seven minutes left in the half.
After the Orange defense stiffened and forced a quick Wildcat punt, the Orange marched into Villanova territory. After being tackled on a run, Hunt punched the facemask of a Wildcat defender and was promptly ejected from the game. Austin Wilson, who was officially named the backup quarterback just a few days earlier, came in to take the first snaps of his college career. After the drive quickly stalled out, SU punted to Villanova, who ran out the half.
Coming out of the half, Wilson led an efficient drive as the Syracuse offense marched 83 yards in 13 plays. Adonis Ameen-Moore capped the drive by crashing into the end zone from two yards out. With just under five minutes elapsed in the quarter, Norton booted the extra point to push the Orange lead to 17-7.
The two teams then traded punts, only Syracuse’s kick was returned 67 yards by Poppy Livers for a touchdown late in the third quarter. The conversion pulled the Wildcats within three points. After SU was forced to punt again, Villanova went on a drive lasting over nine minutes. That possession bogged down deep inside SU territory and the ‘Cats settled for a 25-yard field goal to make it a 17-17 game with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation.
After the Orange had a second straight three-and-out, Villanova again drove deep into Syracuse territory and ended up setting up for another 25-yard field goal try, this one with 15 seconds on the clock. This try, however, missed, effectively sending the game to overtime.
Syracuse won the coin toss and opted to play defense first. Villanova ran on all six of their plays before booting a 24-yard field goal for a 20-17 lead. The Orange reached the Wildcat one-yard-line in three plays, only to lose yardage on their next two snaps. Norton connected on a 22-yard field goal to tie the score at 20.
With the first possession in the second overtime, the Orange again reached the one-yard-line, but could not punch it in. This time, punter Riley Dixon, who serves as the holder for kicks, connected with Kellen Moore on a pass on a fake field goal. The one-yard scoring pass put Syracuse in front and Norton’s conversion made it 27-20.
The Wildcats connected on a touchdown pass of their own and opted to go for a two-point conversion to try to win. Defensive end Rob Welsh made a big play, however, stopping Villanova quarterback John Robertson shy of the end zone and securing a 27-26 Orange victory.
The Orange offense, which entered the season with hopes to be more explosive and consistent than last year, looked very familiar to many of last year’s efforts, as they were outgained by the visitors, 389 yards to 320. Before being ejected, Terrel Hunt completed 10-of-17 passes for 94 yards. Austin Wilson’s college debut ended with a similar stat line, as he connected on 11-of-17 attempts for 89 yards. Prince-Tyson Gulley ran up 100 yards on the ground, highlighted by his electrifying 65-yard touchdown burst. Ashton Broyld and Jarrod West paced the receivers with five catches each, West gaining 59 yards and Broyld 57.
Linebacker Cameron Lynch was an absolute force on defense, piling up 15 tackles, including a dozen solo stops and a sack. Marquez Hodge, Micah Robinson, and Julian Whigham also each had a sack in the game.
Syracuse will go back to the drawing board to prepare for their next game, which is Saturday, September 13 at Central Michigan. The Chippewas (1-0) rallied for a 20-16 home win over Tennessee-Chattanooga on Thursday evening and travel to Purdue next Saturday before welcoming the Orange to Mount Pleasant. Kickoff between Syracuse and Central Michigan is set for noon Eastern.