Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey dipped his head as his left hand came across his eyes to wipe away the tears.
“I’m just very thankful,” Dungey said. “I’ve been through a lot […] I’m going to get grief for crying.”
Maybe he will, but the tears were certainly understandable after his heroic performance in a 34-18 win over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. Dungey finished with 303 passing yards and a touchdown, earning Bowl MVP Honors.
It was a sweet end to a season where the Orange won 10 games for just the seventh time in program history and the first time since 2001. And for Dungey, personally, it was vindication for his road in Syracuse that was as turbulent as it was exciting.
“To have coach [Dino] Babers believe in me,” Dungey said, “Coach [Scott] Shafer brought me in here originally, all I just want to do is compete.”
Dungey arrived at Syracuse as a lightly recruited quarterback out of Oregon. Though he was one of the top ranked prospects in his state, a Power 5 offer eluded him until then-offensive coordinator Tim Lester plucked Dungey from the other side of the country.
Dungey played nearly immediately as a freshman, replacing an injured Terrel Hunt in SU’s first game of the 2015 season against Rhode Island. He never looked back, starting every game he was healthy from then on.
But Shafer was dismissed after Dungey’s freshman year, the result of a 3-9 season. Babers arrived that winter, and two 4-8 campaigns followed. Dungey was consistently hurt, not having taken a single snap in the month of November in his first three years.
It wasn’t until this year that the offense started to cash in on its potential and Dungey was able to stay on the field.
“It was just getting coach Babers’ system implemented,” Dungey said. “Coach always said, ‘Year two, year three. That’s going to be the payoff.’ The man’s always right.”
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That all culminated in a stand-out senior season for Dungey, where he threw for a career-high 2,868 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning All ACC Third Team honors.
Dungey will also walk away from Syracuse as the school’s all-time leading passer with 9,314 yards, eclipsing Ryan Nassib’s record of 9,190 yards.
He did it in Dungey-like fashion in his finale, highlighted by a 42-yard pass to Moe Neal with 10:55 left in the fourth quarter. With three Mountaineer defenders bearing down on him, Dungey spun across his body to his left hand side to buy some extra time.
Dungey saw Neal streaking back toward him and made up his mind he was going to throw instead of absorbing a sack.
“I spun around. I might have been getting tackled,” Dungey said. “The ball came out wobbly. I tried to muscle it to Moe. I got it to Moe and he just made something happen.”
Neal snatched the wobbly pass and cut back across the right side of the field, breaking several tackles before being brought down inside the five yard line. Jarveon Howard punched it in from four-yards out with 9:59 to go to give SU a commanding 34-18 lead.
It was a play that epitomized the Dungey era at Syracuse.
“When it comes to Eric Dungey, the tall tales are true,” Babers said. “We’re going to be telling them for a very long time […] how he got moved left, moved right, moved left and found Moe Neal down the middle for a huge play that changed the game.”
Dungey was responsible for a play that changed the game, and a season that returned Syracuse football to prominence.
“I’m very excited for the future at Syracuse,” Dungey said. “It’s going to be fun to watch Syracuse in the future.”
Ray Caputo contributed to this article with reporting from Orlando, Fla.
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