Fourth quarter surge sparks Syracuse past West Virginia in Camping World Bowl

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Dec 28, 2018; Orlando, Fla., USA; The Syracuse Orange celebrate following its 34-18 win over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. Mandatory Photo Credit: Ray Caputo, The Juice Online.

A 17-point fourth quarter explosion boosted Syracuse to their first double-digit win season in 17 years, as the #17 Orange rallied to defeat #15 West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida, 34-18. The victory gave SU a 10-3 final record, the first time the program reached that win plateau since 2001 when the team defeated Kansas State in the Insight.com Bowl. The Mountaineers end their season at 8-4.

With multiple WVU players, including starting quarterback Will Grier, missing the game, the Syracuse defense put on a workmanlike “bend, but don’t break” performance. West Virginia had a half dozen gains of over 20 yards, but the Orange made important plays when it counted, permitting the Mountaineers to convert just 6-of-18 third down chances and none of their three fourth down attempts. The lone West Virginia touchdown came when an SU turnover gave them the ball at the Orange 16.

The Syracuse offense was highlighted by a pair of new faces, as their first three touchdowns were scored by a pair of players making their debuts. Abdul Adams and Trishton Jackson, who sat out an academic year after transferring from Oklahoma and Michigan State, respectively, made their first SU appearances memorable as the former had a pair of short rushing touchdowns and the latter a touchdown grab that gave the Orange the lead for good.

After two Syracuse three-and-outs to open the game, West Virginia got on the board first, posting a field goal for a 3-0 lead with under seven minutes to play in the first quarter. The Orange responded with their first score.

Eric Dungey got SU close when he evaded a blitzer and connected with Jamal Custis for a 44-yard strike to the WVU 3. Three plays later, Abdul Adams pushed his way through a tackler for a four-yard touchdown run. Andre Szmyt added the extra point for a 7-3 SU lead with just over three minutes left in the first.

The Mountaineers took the lead back early in the second quarter. After intercepting a Dungey pass on the final play of the first, West Virginia needed just four plays to go 16 yards for a touchdown. The extra point missed, but the Mountaineers held a 9-7 edge a minute into the second session.

» Related: Syracuse football eyes rare 10 win season in Camping World Bowl

Two Syracuse drives later, Adams scored for the second time in the game, plowing in from a yard out to cap a 62-yard drive. A pair of WVU penalties aided the Orange on the drive, but the second one came at a cost, as wide receiver Taj Harris left the game after being hit in the helmet by a West Virginia defender. Szmyt added the extra point for a 14-9 lead with 8:30 left in the second.

The Mountaineers responded with another field goal, cutting the SU edge to 14-12. That score held until another WVU field goal went on the board to cap the opening drive of the third quarter, giving West Virginia a one-point lead under five minutes into the second half.

Syracuse responded with their own scoring drive, this time settling for a field goal of their own. Szmyt booted a 39-yard attempt from the left hash just inside the left upright to put the Orange back on top, 17-15, with just over six minutes left on the clock.

The Mountaineers made it three straight drives that ended with field goals, as they needed less than three minutes to go back in front. This kick gave them an 18-17 lead.

SU responded with a long drive that paid off on the first play of the fourth quarter when Dungey connected with Trishton Jackson down the left side on a 14-yard touchdown pass. The offense lined up to try for a two-point conversion, but committed a pre-snap penalty, backing them up five yards and leading to a change to an extra point kick. Szmyt booted the ball through for a 24-18 edge.

Allen Stritzinger got the ball back for the Syracuse offense immediately, gathering a tipped pass out of the air on West Virginia’s first offensive play and returning it to the WVU 33. The Orange would advance to the 16, but no further, settling for Szmyt’s 34-yard field goal from the right hash and a 27-18 lead.

SU would put the game away on the following drive. Moe Neal made a tremendous play when he caught a floater from a harried Dungey, then broke a tackle and somehow kept his balance after another hit, staying on his feet to break away for a 42-yard gain to the Mountaineer four-yard-line. Jarveon Howard ran the ball into the end zone on the next play and Szmyt’s extra point made it 34-18 with 9:59 left in the contest.

The Syracuse defense took over from there, stopping West Virginia on fourth down on their final two possessions and clinching the victory.

Eric Dungey was named the game’s MVP for his performance, completing 21-of-30 passes for 303 yards with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Dungey is now the all-time leading passer in Syracuse history with 9,314 yards, passing Ryan Nassib for the honor. Jamal Custis led the receiving corps with five catches for 80 yards.

Kendall Coleman set a Syracuse bowl record with three sacks in the game. Coleman’s effort gives him ten sacks on the season and was part of a five-sack effort by the defense. Ryan Guthrie and Tyrell Richards claimed the other sacks. Allen Stritzinger’s interception was the lone forced turnover.

Andre Szmyt connected on three extra points, moving him to first-place all-time in SU history for extra points attempted and made in a season with 61. His two field goals gave him 30 on the season, good for a tie for second place in NCAA history.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 561 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.