In a game where neither defense could stop the opposition, it was Syracuse’s defense that solidified a 51-41 victory over No. 22 NC State.
Late in the fourth quarter, with NC State only down by 3, Syracuse made one final stand with 2:10 left.
Alton Robinson flushed Wolfpack (5-2, 2-2 ACC) quarterback Ryan Finley out of the pocket, causing an errant pass that linebacker Andrew Armstrong intercepted. The crowd of more than 40,000 exploded, realizing the Orange (6-2, 3-2) was just minutes away from its first bowl berth since 2013.
That came to fruition a minute later when Dontae Strickland punched the ball in with 1:05 left to put SU in complete control, 51-41.
“[Bowl eligibility is] huge, especially for this senior class,” Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey said. “We’ve been through a lot. It’s just one of those things where you just see each other, and you’re just happy that we finally got that.”
This game was a barnburner from the beginning. In the first quarter alone, Dungey went 8 for 12 for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
The two offenses put up 92 points between each other with over 1,000 total yards combined. Syracuse’s offense finished with 561 total yards with 480 of those coming through the air.
Dungey ended the day 27 of 28, 411 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He passed Donovan McNabb on SU’s career list for most offensive yards. McNabb, who finished with 9,950 yards, was passed by Dungey in the third quarter on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Taj Harris.
“I love Eric, I love all my guys, but I’m just really proud of him, the way he competed and I heard he broke some more records,” Babers said. “When he’s playing like that there’s nobody better.”
Still, while the game will be remembered for its non-stop offense, it was Syracuse’s defense on its final series that pushed the Orange past the Wolfpack.
NC State took over at its 15-yard line down 44-41 with 3:07 left and momentum on its side. The Wolfpack had scored on each of its drives in the second half to that point.
But Syracuse’s defense responded, with Antwan Cordy breaking up a pass meant for Thayer Thomas on first down. Cordy starred again on second down, stopping Reggie Gallaspy II on a short play out of the backfield for no gain to force a third down.
That set up the dramatic interception, with Armstrong falling at the 21 yard line.
“Armstrong has some of the best hands out of everybody on our football team,” Babers said. “He can flat-out catch the football. If the defense doesn’t use him, I’m taking him to tight end.”
Others have finally noticed Syracuse’s ascension back to relevancy.
On Sunday, Syracuse was ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Coach’s Poll and No. 22 in the AP Poll, the first time SU has been in the top 25 since January 4, 2012.
“To have an opportunity to be able to let [this year’s senior class] experience that is something that I will always cherish and something I will always be proud of,” head coach Dino Babers said. “We still have goals that are out there, goals that need to be met. We’re not satisfied and we will not settle, but I’m really happy where those young men are right now.”