Orange Watch: A look back at thrilling Syracuse football finishes in the Dome

Moe Neal breaks free for a run against Wake Forest. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: Last Saturday’s exhilarating Syracuse 32-29 win over Purdue on Garrett Shrader’s 25-yard touchdown fling to a streaking Oronde Gadsden II with 0:07 on the clock, was the latest thrilling ending to a SU football game in the Dome’s 42-year history with 35,943 on hand at “Our House.” There’s been other stunning conclusions in the five decades the Orange have called the Dome home, and not all resulted in ‘Cuse victories.

Here’s a look back at five other highlighted Syracuse football Dome games, in reverse chronological order, that came down to the wire:

2019: Syracuse 39 – Wake Forest 30 (OT)
Coming off a 10-win season and pre-season ranked 22nd, the Orange’s season fell apart with a game two blowout loss at Maryland (63-20), and at 4-7 hosting 8-3 Wake Forest in the season finale this was the team’s “bowl game” in front of an announced crowd of 33,719. Starting quarterback Tommy DeVito was hurt in practice the week of the game, replaced by Clayton Welch making his first and only start of his SU career. Welch guided the ‘Cuse to a 17-3 halftime lead, but Wake roared back with 24 second-half points, and a pair of field goals by Syracuse’s Andre Szmyt and the Deacons Nick Sciba in the final minute sent the game into overtime tied 30-30. Szmyt put SU up 33-30, and Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman then drove his team down to the Syracuse 10 looking to win and lock up a potential Orange Bowl berth. On the next play Hartman’s pass to Kendall Hinton was complete at the five-yard line, but SU cornerback Trill Williams ripped the ball out of Hinton’s hands, and only needing to kneel down to end the game, instead raced 94-yards for a touchdown to put an exclamation point on a gloomy season.

2002: Syracuse 50 – Virginia Tech 42 (3OT)
Syracuse got off to a rough 1-6 start to the ’02 season, only beating Rhode Island, before finally defeating Rutgers and Central Florida by the time the No. 8 Hokies came to town in early November. SU tied the game at 35 just 18 seconds after Tech took a 35-28 lead with 4:27 in the fourth quarter. After a scoreless first overtime, Virginia Tech led 42-35 when on 4th and goal at the six-yard line Troy Nunes hit tight end Joe Donnelly in the back of the end zone to force a third OT. Damian Rhodes, picking up the slack for an injured Walter Reyes, then scored on a 25-yard run and two-point conversion. Tech’s attempt to continue the game ended when Maurice McClain intercepted Bryan Randall’s pass in the corner of the end zone, sending the near sell-out crowd (48,239) into happy mayhem.

1998: Syracuse 28 – Virginia Tech 26
This game ended with one of the most unlikely plays in Dome history. Virginia Tech, No. 12 in the coaches’ poll, led through three quarters. Syracuse took a brief 22-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Tech got two points on SU’s two-point conversion attempt and a field goal to lead 26-22 before the final Orangemen drive. Donovan McNabb drove the ‘Cuse downfield to set up first and goal at the 1-yard line with under a minute to play, but he was sacked on second down for a 12-yard loss and with no timeouts had to spike the ball to stop the clock with 0:05 to play. With one snap left, SU called its famous throwback pass play to the tight end, in this case Steve Brominski, with McNabb rolling right, throwing back left to a leaping Brominski who clutched the ball to his chest and fell to the turf with the winning score. Many of the 49,336 on hand poured out of the stands and joined the jubilation on the field.

» Syracuse scores with 7 seconds left, edges Purdue

1992: Syracuse 10 – Miami 16
We always marvel that the week leading up to the game it was labeled by the Syracuse Newspapers as “the biggest sporting event in the history of central New York.” Undefeated and top-ranked Miami (10-0) sporting a 28-game winning streak, versus No. 8 ranked Syracuse (9-1) in front of a near capacity crowd of 49,857. The Orangemen trailed 13-0 at halftime, containing eventual Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta by picking him off three times during the game, snapping a streak of 123 passes without an interception, but SU was constantly stuffed by the UM defense. Back came Syracuse in the second half led by Marvin Graves and the running game getting 10 points on its first two possessions, including a Graves 1-yard TD leap to make it 16-10 Miami into the fourth quarter. On the game’s final drive starting at midfield with 2:40 to play, Graves took a vicious hit on a run to the Miami 21, and after getting composed during a SU timeout, was sacked on consecutive downs setting up the game’s final play on fourth down at the 32-yard line with 0:10 on the clock. Graves dropped back, found tight end Chris Gedney running a post pattern, and completed the pass to the three-yard line where Gedney was immediately decked by ‘Canes safety Casey Greer as the clock hit 0:00. An audible collective groan sounded in the Dome stands, followed by a loud standing ovation of an effort that came up three-yards short.

1987: Syracuse 32 – West Virginia 31
About two hours before Syracuse kicked off for its goal to close out an unbeaten regular season against longtime Eastern Independent rival West Virginia, the Sugar Bowl officially extended the program an invitation to play SEC champion Auburn on New Year’s Day in New Orleans. For about the next five hours, the bowl’s executives on hand at the Dome held their collective breath. WVU was looking to play spoiler against the 10-0 Orange leading 31-24 with 1:30 to play. On the final SU drive, led masterfully by eventual Heisman Trophy runner-up Don McPherson, his 17-yard scoring strike to tight end Pat Kelly with 0:15 to play pulled the ‘Cuse within one as the sellout crowd of 49,866 chanted “two” in unison for the two-point conversion to win the game. After asking for quiet at the line of scrimmage, McPherson ran the QB option to the left and pitched back to Michael Owens at the eight-yard line and he scampered in for the winning points igniting five consecutive minutes of bedlam. There’s only been perhaps one or two other moments like it in the building’s history.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.