Top of the mountain

It did not look pretty, but for the first time since 2001, SU beat West Virginia.

One week removed from giving up a season-high 45 points at home, the Syracuse defense shut down the vaunted West Virginia offense and the Orange knocked off the No. 20 Mountaineers, 19-14, for the first time since 2001.

West Virginia (5-2, 2-1) held the edge in the majority of statistical categories, including time of possession, total yards and total first downs. However, the Orange (5-2, 2-1) won the category that mattered most: turnovers. 

The Syracuse defense picked off Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith three times – more than double his total coming into the game. The Cuse also sacked Smith five times, as the sophomore signal caller seemed confused all day.

“All credibility to coach Shaffer, he did a good job of knowing when to call pressures and knowing when to drop in coverage,” junior defensive end Chandler Jones said in a postgame radio interview.

Senior linebacker Doug Hogue led the charge for the Orange as he recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and two of SU’s three interceptions.

Despite the low final score, both teams started the game on fire, as 24 points were scored in the first quarter alone. Syracuse would add nine more points – all on Ross Krautman field goals – in the second quarter, to take the lead heading into the half.

The Orange may have been able to give themselves an even greater cushion, but senior running back Delone Carter went down with a hip injury early in the second quarter. Before that, Carter had been relatively unstoppable, rushing for 75 yards on only nine carries.

With Carter out, the Orange struggled to convert third and short situations, and that was especially apparent in the red zone. Syracuse was only able to convert four field goals in four red zone trips, and was 4-of-14 on third downs for the game. However, with an inspired defense, it would be enough.

Neither team scored in the second half, but running back Antwon Bailey filled in admirably for Carter as he gained 94 yards on 19 carries and the SU offense was able to do enough to keep its defense out of bad positions.

“I prepare every week as though I am the starter, because you never know,” Bailey said in a postgame radio interview. “You never know when it’s going to be your time. I was ready to go, but to say the least, I gained a much bigger respect for what Delone does every week.”

Running back Antwon Bailey hurdles a West Virginia defender during the first half of play Saturday. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Orange)

Senior punter Rob Long may have been the unsung hero on the day as he punted six times, with an average of nearly 52 yards. Multiple times – especially in the second half – Long was able to pin the Mountaineers deep in their own territory.

With neither team giving up an inch in the second half, West Virginia’s last gasp began at their own 30 yard line with 6:35 left in the game. Straying from their usual fast-paced approach, the Mountaineers methodically moved the ball down the field to the SU 20 yard line.

On the drive, West Virginia converted on fourth and four and on third and 16 and it looked like the Orange might be in trouble with time running out. However, after moving the ball to the 20, the Mountaineers moved backwards from there.

After a run on first down for no gain, Smith was sacked on second down by Hogue and defensive back Shamarko Thomas for a loss of 12 yards. On the ensuing third and 22 play, Syracuse again brought pressure and Smith was forced to throw the ball away. Facing a fourth and 22 situation with the game on the line, West Virginia decided to call its final timeout.

On fourth down, the Orange brought pressure once again, and Smith was sacked for the final time by Thomas and defensive tackle Anthony Perkins. With a little more than 30 seconds remaining, the Syracuse offense enjoyed one final play from the victory formation as nearly 60,000 sat in stunned silence at Mountaineer Field.

Following the game, the Orange players celebrated in the locker room as the Schwartzwalder trophy was brought in amidst chants of, "Trophy, trophy."

“It means a lot, since I’ve been here we haven’t even seen that trophy,” Bailey said. “Coach Marrone told us before the game that he dusted that trophy’s spot out, and now we’ve got something to put there.”

The Orange will return home with their trophy, but will hit the road again next week as they travel to Cincinnati (3-4, 1-1) who is coming off a disappointing home loss to South Florida. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for noon, and is slated to be shown on ESPNU. 

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