A quick take on Syracuse’s thrilling 39-30 overtime upset victory over Wake Forest Saturday afternoon, in front of a half-filled Dome with a most enthusiastic crowd on hand:
WHAT HAPPENED: In the last Syracuse football game played under the current Teflon, air-supported roof, SU, despite missing out on a bowl game, went out in style on Senior Day. Defensive back Trill Williams stripped the ball away from Wake receiver Kendall Hinton and sprinted 94 yards with the fumble recovery for the extra insurance in overtime. Even if Williams did not score, his play clinched the game. Andre Szmyt connected on a 40-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, to put SU up 33-30 before Williams sealed matters with his defensive stop, just as it appeared as though the Demon Deacons were driving for the winning touchdown, or at worst a field goal to force a second OT. The Orange salvaged a 5-7 record in Dino Babers fourth season, winning for just the second time in ACC play this year, and providing some momentum heading into 2020.
ANALYSIS: It turned out to be a game with a battle of backup quarterbacks. In the case of Syracuse (5-7, 2-6) it was Clayton Welch who started over Tommy DeVito, who was hurt in practice this week, while Sam Hartman replaced an injured Jamie Newman for Wake in the first half. Welch, who shook off a nasty hit near the head area early in the third quarter, was effective. He did just enough from an offensive production standpoint firing two first-half touchdown passes and driving the Orange to the go-ahead Szmyt field goals early in the fourth quarter and overtime. The SU defense did its part forcing five Wake Forest (8-4, 4-4) turnovers, none bigger than Williams’ fumble recovery to end matters in overtime.
HERO: A pair of seniors Welch and Moe Neal were fabulous in their Orange finale. Neal, played with a purpose and darted for 98 yards on the ground and a pretty 15-yard touchdown run, while Welch threw for 234 yards and TD passes to Trishton Jackson and Luke Benson. On special teams, Szmyt was four-of-four on field goals including the winning 40-yard kick in the extra session, while Sterling Hofrichter did nothing to hurt his cause as one of three Ray Guy Award finalists as the nation’s top punter, booming five punts for 227-yards (45.4) and constantly pinning Wake in poor field position.
ZERO: The Orange escaped despite the old penalty bugaboo. Syracuse was flagged 12 times for 122 yards, including after apparently stopping the Demon Deacons on downs with just under 7:00 left, Alton Robinson was cited for a personal foul to keep the drive intact that led to the tying touchdown. Nykeim Johnson was then ejected after an unsportsmanlike penalty call on the ensuing kickoff after making contact with an official. Johnson’s teammates bailed him out with the subsequent game-winning plays by Szmyt and Williams in overtime.
WHAT’S NEXT: The off season. While it’s certainly disappointing to miss a bowl game and the extra practices that come with it, the ‘Cuse coaching staff will be busy on the recruiting trail leading up to the early signing period Dec. 18-20, 2019, before formal winter workouts and spring practice at the Ensley Athletic Center in March with the Dome closed for its roof renovation. Next year’s season opener is likely at Clemson the weekend surrounding Sept. 5, 2020. The ACC is expected to announce the 2020 schedule in mid-January.