It is simply a “next man up” strategy.
After Syracuse finally secured the 30-27 victory over Central Michigan Saturday afternoon, Coach Scott Shafer was fittingly in the moment to quickly recognize how important the outcome is to the school’s football program.
The Orange, despite injuries to starting quarterback Eric Dungey and wideout Steve Ishmael, won its third consecutive game to start the season. The last time a Syracuse team started a season in such fashion was in 1991.
Never mind that SEC super power LSU, fresh off a thrashing of Auburn, is waiting on deck.
“We found a way to win,” Shafer proclaimed. “We are 3-0. Let’s not twist it, turn it. Let’s give these kids credit.”
On a day when Dungey, the electrifying frosh signal caller from Lake Oswego, OR, was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and when the young Orange defense seemingly couldn’t stop Chippewas senior quarterback Cooper Rush until the overtime period, the coach clearly focused on the final score. The fact no SU squad has started with such a mark since coach Paul Pasqualoni’s first year on the Hill just adds to the coach’s tale.
Dungey, starting his second career game, was inserted into the lineup only after senior QB Terrell Hunt went down with a season-ending injury against Rhode Island in the opener.
With a roster manned by more underclassmen than desired, the SU coach admitted the maturation process can have its rough stretches.
“Sometimes it’s an ugly and strenuous thing,” admitted Shafer, the cost of playing nearly 20 first-year players against Central Michigan. “We have a lot of work to do.”
After Dungey went down, Shafer used a rotation of sophomores Austin Wilson and Zach Mahoney to lead the offense. While the offense was unable to gain any momentum in the game’s second half, the Orange did not scale back to a simplified game plan.
“That was our plan,” Shafer said. “Both of those kids gave us a chance to run our whole offense.”
When the Chippewas settled for an OT field goal after the Orange defense rose one final time to stop a drive, Mahoney, who was the sixth QB listed on the preseason depth chart, was on the field when freshman back Jordan Fredericks scored the game winner on a dive to the right pylon.
“Coach prepares us every week and if your number is called you better be ready to play,” Mahoney said. “I was just glad to be a part of it.”
Fredericks, who finished with 11 carries for 78 yards, was the leading rusher on the day but understands it may change in the future.
“We just have to keep going and focus on the end result,” Fredericks said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
On his game-winning play, it was the result of hard work and determination.
Whether no. 8th-ranked LSU dominate the conversation this week is not important right now.
“Stay focused on winning the day and all good things will come,” Shafer said. “We need to continue to move forward.”
He added “It’s so simple, but the process works.”
This squad of unselfish players has an opportunity for more successes this season, the coach reasoned.
“These guys just want to win football games,” he said.
Then he added his signature, “I’m just so proud of them,” Shafer said, while repeating the team’s record again and again.