Syracuse football: Late turnovers cost Orange important victory

After surrendering a second-half lead against N.C. State, SU must now win all of its remaining games to qualify for a bowl.

With less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Syracuse quarterback AJ Long was intercepted by N.C. State defensive end Pharoah McKever.  

McKever, who played wide receiver last year before switching to the defense in 2014, returned the interception for an 82-yard touchdown that put the Wolfpack ahead for good. 

"I can't fumble the ball with four minutes left. There are too many mistakes that I'm making."
— AJ Long

“I really never ran that far in a long time, so when I got that ball my intention was to just go, go, go,” McKever said. 

Long committed two turnovers in the third quarter, and the Orange never recovered in a 24-17 loss. SU must now win out to qualify for a bowl game. 

In what has become a season-defining trend, Syracuse (3-6) struggled to generate offense early in the game.  The Orange had just over five minutes of total possession time and only 14 offensive yards through the first quarter. 

“We had some struggles there, especially in the first half,” SU head coach Scott Shafer said. “We were trying to juggle some kids around there inside and struggled to run the ball.” 

However, N.C. State (5-4) came out firing and put together a nine-play, 52-yard drive in just under three minutes. Senior Niklas Sade drilled a 43-yard field goal attempt to give the Wolfpack an early 3-0 lead.   

N.C. State tripled its advantage in the second quarter with two more Sade field goals from 43 and 21 yards out.

Despite the Wolfpack’s early scoring, the Orange ended the half on a high note. Long connected with receiver Jarrod West on a 30-yard pass to move the Orange into N.C. State territory. As time wound down, Long then launched a pass to wide receiver Ben Lewis, who made a diving catch in the end zone to make the halftime score 9-7. 

“AJ threw a nice ball to the corner of the end zone, and I just tried to make a play for my teammates,” Lewis said. 

SU carried that momentum into the third quarter. On its opening drive, Long found frequent target Steve Ishmael in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass. 

The score put the Orange ahead 14-9 with 11:38 left in the third quarter.  

“It was a simple deep pass,” Ishmael said. “I work on that almost every day with AJ.” 

But two SU turnovers, including McKever’s interception return, quickly swung momentum back in N.C. State’s favor. 

Long encouraged his teammates on the Orange sideline during the fourth quarter, but his high-fives failed to produce positive results. N.C. State linebacker Noel Rodman stripped the ball from him with 3:54 reamining, and defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs recovered for the Wolfpack.  

The turnover sent many of the announced 40,787 fans heading for the exits. 

“I can’t fumble the ball with four minutes left,” Long said. “There are too many mistakes that I’m making.” 

N.C. State quarterback Jacoby Brissett later completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Shadrach Thornton to put N.C. State up 24-14.  

“We were trying to run that play all game,” Brissett said. “The receivers outside did a great job, and the offensive line did a great job of sealing off the end and Shad got in and scored.” 

The Orange did manage to make the game interesting in the final seconds. Cole Murphy drilled a 50-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to make the score 24-17.  

Dyshawn Davis recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran the ball into the end zone. However, NCAA rules state the recovering team can’t advance the ball. The Orange fans left in the stands showered the field with boos out of both confusion and frustration.   

In the game’s final seconds, Long launched a deep pass into the end zone, but Wolfpack safety Josh Jones picked it off to seal the victory. 

West had seven catches for a career-high 161 yards in the losing effort.

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