Syracuse pulls off shocker in home opener

The Orange struggles early, but finds its rhythm to come back against Wake Forest in overtime.

In the blink of an eye, SU's football team took over.

What seemed to be a slumping offense turned out to be a sleeping giant courtesy of a 53-yard touchdown run by Antwon Bailey. Ironic considering Bailey’s fumble earlier in the quarter set up what seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the Orange.

Photo: Alyssa Stone
Running back Prince-Tyson Gulley carries the ball towards the end zone during Thursday's win over Wake Forest.

“I felt like I kind of let my team down with the fumble, but I have great coaches,” Bailey said after the game. “And the biggest thing in football is to have a short memory and that is what I was able to do.”

Carried by the momentum from Bailey’s touchdown burst, the Orange tied the game to force overtime and complete a 22-point comeback to stun visiting Wake Forest, 36-29. 

As far as home openers, you can’t get much better. SU entered the game riding a seven-game losing streak against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The team had not won consecutive season openers since 2000, and they faced a team far better than their 2010 record of 3-9 hinted.

The start of the game made it look like the program reverted back to its pre-Doug Marrone form. Despite the deficit and sloppy start for the offense, head coach Marrone sought to keep his team calm.

“I’m not a guy who gets into panic mode, but I felt good,” head coach Marrone said in the post-game press conference. “Once you know what they’re doing, then it’s a matter of being on the sidelines, schooling up the players, understanding what’s happening.”

The defense kept the Orange in the game for much of the first half by containing WFU’s attack. The Demon Deacons pounded the ball with running back Josh Harris, which opened the passing game for sophomore quarterback Tanner Price to complete a few deep passes. Price threw for over 200 yards by the end of the half, including a 60-yard pass to Chris Givens. WFU headed into the half with the lead, 20-7.

With Wake controlling the ball and the scoreboard for over two-thirds of the half, the Syracuse defense could not afford to be tired.

“Definitely, a lot of fatigue,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I feel like it was nothing that we couldn’t handle.”

The team stressed leadership and resilience during the off-season, and the defense showed by their ability to adjust. Starting defensive backs Kevyn Scott, Phillip Thomas, and Ri’Shard Anderson all left the field with an injury, forcing an already inexperienced defense – only five starters returned from 2010 – to keep the game close.

The teams traded scores in the third quarter, but a costly fumble Bailey on the Syracuse 30 yard line, set WFU up with an opportunity to extend their lead and bury the Orange. But the defense stood firm and forced Wake to settle for a field goal after a sack by freshman linebacker Dyshawn Davis and a holding penalty pushed the offense back. Wake also lost Price with a leg injury during the drive.

The offense returned to the field reinvigorated. Despite their earlier struggles, the defense felt confident in what the offense would do.

“Just one word: Believe,” Jones said. “We believe in this offense, we’ve been with them this whole off-season and we know what they are capable of doing. We knew if we gave them enough time, they would do it.”

Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib orchestrated an eight-play, 73-yard drive, capping it off with a touchdown pass to senior fullback Adam Harris, his first career touchdown. SU trailed, 29-21.

WFU could not gain any ground on the Orange on the ensuing drive, pushing momentum slightly more in Syracuse’s favor. Then, it went off the charts when Bailey took a halfback toss in for a 53-yard touchdown.

Nassib tied the game by finding fellow senior Van Chew in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion. While the opportunity does not come up often, Chew says it’s a situation they always prepare for in practice.   

“That play, we practice that,” Chew said. “We always practice two-point plays and that was one of them so I was really familiar with that one. I just tried to get open in the scramble and Ryan [Nassib] saw me in the end zone and he just threw it.”

With the conversion, the Loud House was reborn and the defense grew even more confident. Kevyn Scott, the defensive back who had returned to the game, came up with a clutch interception to stall yet another fourth-quarter WFU drive. Neither team could score on their final possession, forcing overtime.

SU started overtime with the ball, and Nassib quickly established Chew as his target by finding him for a 16-yard sideline pass to put the Orange in goal. On second and goal, Chew lunged just inside the pylon for a 4-yard touchdown. A booth review confirmed the score.

Nassib attributes his familiarity with Chew for their connection in tonight’s game.

“To be honest with you, I was just trying to throw it away,” Nassib admitted. “I was just trying not to get a pick. So I just threw it where only Van [Chew] could get it. I’ve been with him for quite some time and he makes those plays look easy doesn’t he?”

SU’s defense excelled with Wake’s backs against the wall. The Orange stopped the Demon Deacons on four plays to hold on to win, 36-29, in one of the most dramatic home openers in program history.

Marrone admits the team still has some progress to make, but tonight’s excitement was certainly not lost on him.

“We have a long way to go,” Marrone said. “We’re far from where we want to be, but it’s a good start and we’re excited. I appreciate the fans, they helped us win this game at the end. And if you wound up leaving, you missed a great game.”

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