Neither the rally nor the final score was particularly pretty. Syracuse fought back from an 18-point first half deficit, but their disjointed offense could not get them over the hump and an overturned fumble call all but finished them, enabling Pittsburgh to escape the Dome with a 27-20 win. The Orange (3-4, 0-3 ACC) put together a long touchdown drive to get within seven with under three minutes left, but K.J. Ruff’s forced fumble that gave the ball back to SU was overturned by video review, enabling the Panthers (5-2, 2-1) to escape with the win.
Syracuse got back in the game by finding offense in an unusual source. While a few packages were designed to get Clayton Welch into the game as a running threat, the redshirt senior ended up relieving Tommy DeVito at quarterback in the second Orange possession of the third quarter.
Welch made a splash in his first significant playing time while at Syracuse. Entering the game on a third-and-nine from the SU 10 early in the third quarter, Welch threw a deep pass down the left sideline to Taj Harris, who caught the ball, slipped a tackle, and went the distance. The bomb not only brought a teetering fanbase back into the game, but the 94-yard scoring pass went into the school record books in a tie for the second-longest pass play in school history.
Andre Szmyt’s extra point kick drew the Orange within 24-13 less than four minutes out of the intermission. Two possessions later, SU wobbled their way 55 yards downfield, mostly through three pass interference penalties against Pitt, but Szmyt’s 49-yard field goal stayed to the left of the upright early in the final quarter.
Pittsburgh responded with a field goal of their own to extend their lead to 27-13 with just over seven minutes remaining.
The Orange started off the ensuing possession in dramatic fashion, as Welch connected with Trishton Jackson for a 40-yard gain. Inside the red zone, tight end Aaron Hackett motioned into an inside handoff to convert a fourth down, but only after replay confirmed he was down before losing the ball.
Two plays later, Welch rifled a seven-yard touchdown pass to Hackett and Szmyt’s conversion made it 27-20 with 2:44 to play, setting up Pitt’s final possession.
While the end was particularly painful for Syracuse, the beginning was not much better. The Panthers opened the scoring with a field goal, but the Orange matched it by taking advantage of a muffed punt that Cameron Jordan recovered. SU took over at the Pitt 46 and worked their way down to the 10 before Szmyt knotted the score with a 28-yard field goal with just over three minutes left in the first.
The Panthers got into the end zone shortly after on a trick play, getting a 43-yard touchdown to take the lead again. Syracuse responded with another field goal, this time getting a 20-yard chip shot from Szmyt to make it 10-6 just under three minutes into the second.
Pittsburgh owned the remainder of the quarter, getting a pair of touchdown drives, the latter ending with 23 seconds before halftime, to grab a 24-6 lead.
Clayton Welch completed only 8-of-20 passes, but they were good for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Taj Harris gained 111 yards on three receptions, including a score, while Trishton Jackson and Sean Riley each snared five passes, the former rolling up 76 yards.
Josh Black had a pair of sacks and Brandon Berry added one. Andrew Armstrong had nine tackles in the game top lead all players.
The Orange will travel to Tallahassee for their next game, as they take on Florida State next Saturday. The Seminoles (3-3, 2-2) play at Wake Forest on Saturday night before facing SU. Running back Cam Akers is the top player on the ‘Noles, having amassed 616 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
Television coverage is not yet set between the ACC Network, ESPN, and ESPN2, but the game will get underway at 3:30pm Eastern.