Syracuse football ends disappointing season with flourish against Wake Forest

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers addresses the media. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Syracuse closed the 2019 campaign in dramatic fashion, as Trill Williams ripped the ball away from a Wake Forest receiver and returned the ball 94 yards for a touchdown and a 39-30 overtime victory. The Orange (5-7, 2-6 ACC) had taken the lead on a field goal on their opening possession of the extra session, but Williams’ big play sealed the victory. The Demon Deacons dropped to 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

The explosive finale capped a day of big plays from the SU defense, as they forced five turnovers in the game to help offset Wake’s 572 yards of offense. The Orange offense was choppy and sloppy, as they also committed three turnovers and committed several of the team’s dozen penalties.

Wake Forest converted their first possession into a field goal for an early lead. Syracuse struck back with an effective drive that featured a couple impressive Moe Neal runs, a superhuman Taj Harris effort to nearly score on a reception where he shook about half the Demon Deacon roster, and Clayton Welch connecting on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Trishton Jackson. Andre Szmyt added the extra point for a 7-3 Orange lead.

Andre Cisco personally ended the next two Wake possessions, first with an interception, then by recovering a fumble caused by Lakiem Williams. SU converted the latter into points when Szmyt booted a 24-yard field goal from the right hash to extend the lead to 10-3 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter.

Welch notched his second scoring pass of the day on a fake bubble screen when Luke Benson slipped behind the defense and the quarterback connected with him on a 29-yard touchdown. Szmyt’s conversion pushed the Syracuse lead to 17-3 less than two minutes into the second quarter.

Most of the quarter passed before the next score, in part due to a pair of Orange interceptions. Ifeatu Melifonwu ended one Wake Forest possession by jumping a route for a pick in the end zone and Christopher Fredrick ended the following drive with an interception of his own.

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The Demon Deacons, however, would get the last laugh of the half after coming up with their own interception and a field goal on the final play before intermission, slicing the SU lead down to 17-6. Wake would also drive for a touchdown on the opening drive after the break, trimming the margin to four.

Syracuse replied with a long drive that included Tommy DeVito entering at quarterback after Welch suffered a shot from a Wake Forest defender’s helmet. The drive bogged down inside the five and the Orange took a Szmyt field goal of 20 yards as a consolation prize to stretch their lead to 20-13 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter.

The Deacs responded with a 75-yard touchdown run on the next play from scrimmage and their extra point knotted the score at 20. Wake also had the first scoring threat of the fourth quarter, but Nick Sciba pushed a 48-yard field goal wide of the uprights, snapping his record-setting streak of consecutive field goals at 34.

SU took advantage, driving 70 yards in seven plays, taking the lead when Moe Neal burst into the end zone untouched from 13 yards out. Szmyt tacked on the extra point and Syracuse led by seven once more, this time at 27-20 with 8:29 left in the fourth.

Once more, Wake Forest rose to the challenge, knotting the game with a touchdown. The Orange responded with another scoring drive, this time getting a 49-yard field goal from Szmyt with 44 seconds on the clock for a 30-27 edge.

Those 44 ticks proved to be too many, as the Demon Deacons were able to get Sciba a shot at redemption and he cashed in, booting a 43-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.

SU was not able to get a first down on their opening possession of overtime, but Szmyt’s 40-yard field goal was true for a 33-30 lead. Wake got a first and goal at the Syracuse ten, then had an incomplete pass, setting the stage for Trill Williams’ game-winning play.

Pressed into service after Tommy DeVito suffered a minor injury when a teammate stepped on his foot in practice this week, Clayton Welch won his first and final career start for the Orange, connecting on 21-of-36 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. DeVito was able to make a brief appearance in game when Welch was shaken up after a hard hit.

Trishton Jackson (10 receptions, 111 yards, one touchdown) and Taj Harris (seven catches for 70 yards) were Welch’s primary targets. Jackson became the sixth player in school history to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a single campaign, finishing with 1,023.

In his final game at SU, Moe Neal fell just shy of the century mark, racking up 98 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. The effort nudged Neal to ninth all-time at Syracuse in rushing yards with 2,560 and he leaves the school eighth in yards from scrimmage with 3,106.

It was a day of big plays for the Orange defense. In addition to Trill Williams’ game-winning fumble return, Andre Cisco had a fumble recovery and interception. Christopher Fredrick and Ifeatu Melifonwu also had interceptions while Lakiem Williams had a forced fumble to go with his game-high 11 tackles. Alton Robinson had a sack as part of his ten stops on the day. Fredrick and Mikel Jones also reached the ten-tackle plateau.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 588 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.