Syracuse football squeezed out in 2017 season finale, finish 4-8

This marks the fourth-straight season SU has failed to reach a bowl game.

In the final home game of the season, Syracuse showed few signs of life as it was beaten by Boston College 42-14, finishing the season on a five-game losing streak.

With Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey out and backup Zack Mahoney suited up for his final game, it appeared that it’d be all set for the senior from LaGrange Park, Illinois to have one last chance of glory. And while he did see playing time, it was a lot less frequent.

Photo: Peter Benson
Boston College's AJ Dillon evades tackle against Syracuse on Nov. 25.

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers instead elected to play sophomore Rex Culpepper in his first start at quarterback, while Mahoney would continue his holding duties.

“Zack wasn’t completely healthy, but we really wanted to see what Rex could do,” Babers said.

Culpepper began the game well, completing his first six passes. The first pass was a screen right to senior wide receiver Steve Ishmael, who set the record single-season receptions with 95.

On the same possession, Culpepper threw a dagger to Ishmael again, this time for a 37-yard touchdown. This was Culpepper’s first collegiate touchdown.

Culpepper saw this as a result of dedication to preparation since he began at Syracuse, and took advantage of his opportunity during this week off school for Thanksgiving break.

“It was coach’s decision,” Culpepper said.

Syracuse’s struggles came on the defensive side of the ball. The team struggled to contain the running back partnership of AJ Dillon and Jon Hilliman. The two combined for 42 carries and 277 rushing yards.

The defense also battled its own demons, especially on third-down conversions. The visiting Eagles were eight of 14 on third-down conversion and only punted the ball once.

“I expect to improve because of the new people we’re bringing in and the returning guys that we have on the defense,” Babers said.

Culpepper’s two touchdown throws were both over 15 yards and were highlights for the Orange. However, one blemish from the first came when he overthrew Ishmael on a deep run left and right into the hands of Boston's Lukas Denis, who returned the ball for 48 yards.

Kicking woes continued for Cole Murphy. While he completed both point after tries, he missed a 50-yard field goal to end the second half after being iced twice by Boston College head coach Steve Addazio.

The second half was much different than the first, with the result all but set in stone. Culpepper had some moments of smart throwing, but a fumble on a quarterback sneak during the fourth quarter was something he could not get back.

Boston College kept Syracuse scoreless for the second half, leaving the offense watching on the sidelines for long periods. This led to a lot of minutes played by the defense, including Parris Bennett. But Bennett seemed prepared for that.

“You want to have your best 11 on the field as often as you can, so all you gotta do is get in the training room and take care of your body,” Bennett said.

While Bennett and a dozen other Syracuse players won’t be on field next year, Babers said they are the “cornerstone” of what is in store for this program.

“The 2018 season is something that’s going to be remembered here for a long, long time,” Babers said.

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