As so often happens, one defensive play can decide an offensive shootout. Alton Robinson’s pass rush on Ryan Finley set up Andrew Armstrong’s interception with just over two minutes left, enabling Syracuse to march down a short field for the clinching touchdown in their 51-41 home win over #22 North Carolina State. Robinson was right on Finley, forcing him to throw earlier than he wanted, and Armstrong jumped the route for the turnover.
A little over a minute later, Dontae Strickland roared into the end zone over the right side of the line, clinching the game and bowl eligibility for the first time in five years for the Orange (6-2, 3-2 ACC) with 1:05 on the clock.Strickland’s score was the capper in an offensive explosion where SU rolled up 561 yards, including 480 through the air, and 30 first downs on the Wolfpack (5-2, 2-2).
After N.C. State opened the game with a three-and-out, Syracuse responded with a field goal from Andre Szmyt. The 29-yard kick gave the Orange an early 3-0 lead.
The ‘Pack struck back with a big play touchdown to go in front, but that lead was short-lived. Two plays later, Eric Dungey dropped a perfectly thrown bomb into the arms of Nykeim Johnson, who raced the rest of the way for an 82-yard touchdown. Szmyt’s extra point kick made it 10-7, SU, less then six minutes into the action.
Syracuse added onto the lead on their next possession. Jamal Custis’ 45-yard reception got the Orange into the red zone and Jarveon Howard finished the drive by fighting into the end zone from two yards out. Szmyt tacked on the conversion for a 17-7 lead.
Two possessions later, SU was in the end zone once more. Dontae Strickland connected with Eric Riley for a 48-yard gain on a halfback pass, then two plays later, Dungey and Custis hooked up on a 20-yard pass in the right side of the end zone to cap the 30-second drive with another touchdown. Szmyt added the extra point once more for a 24-7 Syracuse lead with 2:39 left in the first quarter.
The North Carolina State offense got into gear, sandwiching a touchdown between a pair of field goals. The scores sliced the Orange lead down to 24-20 with just over three minutes left in the opening half.
SU had two more chances with the ball before halftime and cashed in the second one when Szmyt knocked home a 45-yard field goal on the final play of the half. The kick sent Syracuse to the locker room with a 27-20 lead.
The Orange kept their momentum going with a touchdown drive to open the third quarter. Dungey capped the possession by pushing across the goal line from a yard out. Szmyt tacked on the extra point for a 34-20 lead with nearly six minutes elapsed.
The ‘Pack responded with a touchdown to halve the lead, but SU replied in kind to reinstate the 14-point margin. This time Dungey stepped up in the pocket and lofted a pass to Taj Harris, who was a couple steps behind the defense on the right sideline. Harris gathered in the pass and took off to complete a 31-yard touchdown. With just over four minutes left in the third, Szmyt’s extra point gave Syracuse a 41-27 lead.
N.C. State added a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Dungey had another scoring drive in him. The senior quarterback converted a third-and-21 with a 29-yard pass to Riley. The drive stalled before reaching the red zone, but Szmyt stuck a 41-yard field goal from the left hash through the uprights to stretch the Orange lead to 44-34.
The Wolfpack struck quickly for a touchdown to pull within 44-41 midway through the fourth, then held the SU offense, forcing a punt with just over three minutes on the clock. With the visitors facing a third-and-ten, Robinson blew into the backfield, forcing Finley to throw early, leading to Armstrong’s interception, the lone turnover in the game.
With the ball at the N.C. State 21 and 2:18 on the clock, Syracuse set about finishing off both the clock and the guests. The Wolfpack ran through their timeouts, but Dontae Strickland ran through their defense from five yards out for the clinching touchdown with 1:05 to play. Szmyt put the extra point through the uprights and SU had a 51-41 lead.
Eric Dungey had an excellent game, connecting on 27-of-38 passes for 411 yards and three scores through the air, as well as one on the ground. The yardage total moved Dungey to the top of the SU record book in total offense, passing Donovan McNabb.
Dungey spread the ball around between four wide receivers. Sean Riley posted career highs in receptions and receiving yards, finishing with ten grabs for 164 yards. Nykeim Johnson broke the century mark for the second straight game with seven grabs for 136 yards and a touchdown while Taj Harris had a half dozen catches for 86 yards and a score. Jamal Custis chipped in with 80 yards on only three grabs and touchdown.
Chris Slayton had the only sack for the Orange while Andrew Armstrong logged the only turnover with his fourth quarter pick. Ryan Guthrie led the team with eight tackles, including being credited with 1.5 tackles for loss.
Syracuse goes on the road for their next game at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (4-4, 1-3) had lost four of five games before righting the ship against Louisville, cruising to a 56-35 road win over the Cardinals.
Matt Colburn ran for 243 yards and three touchdowns against Louisville as part of a ground game that amassed 368 yards on 48 attempts. Sam Hartman has thrown for 14 scores against seven interceptions for Wake and wide receiver Greg Dortch leads the team with 60 receptions for 751 yards and five scores.
The Orange and Demon Deacons will get underway at noon Eastern on Saturday. The game will be televised on regional sports networks, as well as available at ESPN3.com.