Last week, the heartbreaking finish may not have stung as much, because Syracuse was never supposed to be in the position to win, anyway.
This week, it’s different.
Fresh off a last-minute loss at No. 3 Clemson in which the eventual victor bled out the clock with a merciless ground attack en route to an eventual finishing blow, SU watched the same script unfold at Pittsburgh Saturday. The Panthers stormed back from an early deficit, traded punches with the Orange into overtime, and sealed a 44-37 win with an interception on Syracuse’s first offensive play in the extra period.
“It’s gonna be one of those Pitt-Syracuse games, and it was,” Dino Babers said when asked what he told his team during the game. “We got a rivalry.”
It’s clichéd to call a game a roller coaster, but on Saturday, the description fit. Syracuse took the opening kick after Pittsburgh deferred — a curious choice considering the Orange’s ACC-best scoring offense and the Panthers’ ACC-third-worst scoring defense — and methodically marched 75 yards on 11 plays over just over four minutes, capped off by tight end Aaron Hackett on his first career catch. Pittsburgh’s first drive, on the other hand, ended with a fumble setting up a short drive and one-yard plunge from Jarveon Howard to make it 14-0 less than 10 minutes in.
The Panthers scored the next 20 points, highlighted by a 69-yard touchdown run from Qadre Ollison and a 35-yard scoop-and-score from Dane Jackson. Alex Kessman, who entered with one field goal made all season, drilled two from more than 50 yards out to give his team a six-point lead. Andre Szmyt’s response trimmed the deficit to three heading to halftime.
Pittsburgh rode the wave out of the locker room, striking from distance again on Rafael Araujo-Lopes’ 68-yard sprint on a screen pass less than a minute into the third quarter.
Then, in what may have represented exactly the fix Syracuse needed at that moment, rain started to hammer Heinz Field and delayed the game for more than an hour.
“I’ve actually been in longer [delays],” Babers said. “That one was really short… Some guys got some treatment; coaches looked at things, put some things in. We tried to take advantage of every minute.”
It worked. The first 17 points out of the break went to SU, as did all of the momentum. A pocket of Syracuse fans began chanting, “Let’s go Orange!” and at that point, it felt like Babers’ team could cruise.
But Pittsburgh’s run game kept pounding. Perhaps the best microcosm of Saturday’s game came on the Panthers’ touchdown to tie it at 34, when second-string running back Derrin Hall lined up in the Wildcat and — with everyone in the stadium fully aware a run was coming — waltzed straight up the gut and into the end zone from seven yards out.
Both kickers nailed testicular-fortitude field goals: Szmyt from 54, one off the Heinz Field record — pro or college — set by Kessman earlier in the game, and Kessman from 45 to knot it up again. Pittsburgh started with the ball in overtime and Hall scored again, which proved to be the game-winner after Therran Coleman wrestled away Eric Dungey’s back-foot heave to the end zone.
Babers said they dialed up the last play because they liked Dungey — who finished with a game-high 70 rushing yards and a touchdown — rolling to his right and finding some space.
“We thought it was a really good call,” Babers said of the game-sealing turnover. “We’re not second-guessing it.”
Now, the Orange must stew on their back-to-back crushing losses for a week before a two-game homestand against North Carolina and NC State, both games that should prove winnable.
“We’re 4-2, heck of a chance to be 6-0,” Babers said. “We’ve got to learn from it… That bye is coming at a good time.”