Syracuse Football bounces back, downs rival Pitt on Homecoming Saturday
If the Syracuse University football program was to make a bowl game in 2017 -- Saturday's game was considered a must-win.
The reason for that is simple.
After Pittsburgh, the Orange faces the likes of Clemson, Louisville, Florida State and Miami, among others.
Pittsburgh, although a rival, entered Saturday's game in similar shape as Syracuse. The Panthers boasted the same overall record (2-3), and the same league mark (0-1).
Long story short -- the winner of Saturday afternoon's game would position itself much better towards a bowl game appearance.
The Orange was able to avoid the big let-down in the opening quarter -- something that has plagued the team in recent losses at LSU and North Carolina State.
This time around, Syracuse began with a 26-yard field goal by Cole Murphy.
But what's when Pittsburgh regained the lead.
Jordan Whitehead broke off a 35-yard run to give the Panthers a 7-3 lead. On the next offensive possession, Pitt added a field goal to give the Panthers a 10-3 lead on the road.
However, right before the half, Eric Dungey orchestrated a 9-play, 93-yard drive down the field, resulting in a Devin C. Butler 32-yard touchdown reception.
At the half, the Orange and Panthers were tied at 10-10.
From there, the Orange offense took off.
Similar to the way it did the two previous weeks on the road -- it was the same result inside the Carrier Dome against Pittsburgh.
Dungey scored on a 10-yard touchdown run, giving Syracuse the 17-13 advantage.
The Orange added to its lead in the fourth quarter, as Dungey connected on his second touchdown pass of the game. This time, Dungey hit Steve Ishmael for a catch where he had to back-pedal to make the grab.
Syracuse took the 27-16 lead late in the fourth quarter.
But that's when Pittsburgh fired back.
Qadree Ollison, a Niagara Falls native, took the hand-off and found the end zone from 19 yards out. A 2-point conversion cut Syracuse's lead to 27-24.
With the Orange getting the ball back, it decided to run clock and focus on getting first downs to end the game.
It worked for a while -- until the Orange came up short on a 4th-and-1. The failure gave the ball back to Pitt, which allowed the Panthers to attempt to drive the field to get into field goal range with 50 seconds remaining on the clock.
However, that's when the Syracuse defense stepped up, stopping the Pitt offense as the clock ran out.
In the end, Syracuse had earned its third win of the season, 27-24.
"It was good to finally get that monkey off our back," SU head coach Dino Babers said during his post game press conference. "It's our third close game. All the way in the second half, five minutes left in the game, who's going to win the game? We don't know. To see the team rally together and not only have all three units play well in the last five minutes [special teams, offense and defense], and everyone contribute to an ACC Atlantic win. It was exciting, the kids are excited, and we're happy that we were able to do our part to make sure everyone had a happy homecoming."
Syracuse returns to action on Friday night, which is when the No. 2 Clemson Tigers visit the Carrier Dome for a 7 p.m. start on ESPN.