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SU Football's comeback falls short, dropped at NC State in ACC Opener

Syracuse players walk back to the sideline after celebrating Steve Ishmael's late touchdown during Saturday's 33-25 loss at NC State. (PHOTO: ACC Network)

The Syracuse University football program raised lots of eyebrows after last week's 35-26 loss at No. 25 LSU.

No, not because the Orange lost the game.

Rather, because of how close it was.

Syracuse was a 23.5-point underdog going into Baton Rouge, and tightened it to a 28-26 game with under five minutes to play from Tiger Stadium.

However, what's in the past is in the past. The Orange needed to accept the loss, and move forward to North Carolina State this week.

And that's precisely what they did, however, at an expense.

Syracuse starting defensive end Kendall Coleman would not make the trip to Raleigh, North Carolina due to the death of his grandmother.

Without their starting defensive end, the Orange marched ahead with the confidence derived from playing mighty LSU to the final whistle.

Similar to the way last week's game at LSU began, it was the exact same this week against NC State.

Syracuse starting quarterback Eric Dungey threw an interception on the Orange's first offensive series of the game, lobbing it up for Devin C. Butler. But it was picked off by Johnathan Alston.

The Orange trailed 13-0 in the blink of an eye.

But that's when Dungey responded. On the ensuing drive, the junior marched the Orange 75 yards on 10 plays, resulting in a Dungey touchdown run from 7 yards out.

The Wolfpack responded with two more touchdowns in the second quarter, pushing their lead to 26-7 at the halftime break.

After the game, SU players referenced a special locker room speech given by head coach Dino Babers, which led to a much-improved second half performance.On Syracuse's first offensive drive of the second half, Dungey orchestrated a 9-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to put the Orange back in the game, 26-14.

As the Orange began to find success on offense, the same could not be said for the Wolfpack, who became visibly frustrated with its performance in front of the home crowd.

Sterling Hofrichter completed a late-third quarter Syracuse drive with a field goal to cut into the deficit, 26-17. But that's when NC State had yet another response.

The Wolfpack fired back with Nyheim Hines 1-yard touchdown run, which was set up by a 19-yard screen pass from Jaylen Samuels, putting NC State at the Syracuse goal line.

With under five minutes remaining in the contest, and Syracuse trailing 33-17, the Orange refused to give up.

Dungey once again led the Orange down the field, culminating in a Steve Ishmael 10-yard touchdown catch. A 2-point conversion put the Orange within striking distance, 33-25, with only a couple minutes left.

But when the Orange absolutely needed a stop, it could not get one.

On 4th-and-inches, NC State plowed ahead on a quarterback sneak, gaining the first down, and essentially ending the game.

"Once again, I think that when you look at that football team, NC State, very physical and very strong with their front seven," Babers said after the game. "The job that their offensive line did on our defensive line, to rush for the yards that they rushed for, was absolutely amazing. Once again, fourth and fifth-year guys that have been around a long time -- my hat goes off for coach [Dave] Doeren. I mean, that was a physical football team and they deserved the victory. They beat us physically."

"Coach [Dino] Babers talked in the locker room and gave a passionate speech," Philips explained afterward. "We didn't play to our capability in the first half -- we know that. But we knew we had to come out with the ball and play fast, and put some points on the board. So, I think [it was] just adjustments and playing more passionate in the second half played into that."

In the end, Syracuse's second half comeback effort had fallen short, as Pittsburgh comes to the Carrier Dome next weekend for a 12:30 p.m. start.

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