The Syracuse Orange football team suffered another defeat on Saturday — though at least the one was an entertaining game that showed fight from start to finish. Still, the Wolfpack wound up earning the win, 36-29.
NC State picked up the early 7-0 lead, but SU tied things up just seconds later after a 98-yard kick return touchdown by freshman Trebor Pena. Pack QB Bailey Hockman nearly took the lead right back in the second quarter but Geoff Cantin-Arku helped force a fumble into the end zone. SU turned that next possession into a field goal to lead 10-7. A big interception by Mikel Jones (his fourth of the year) set up another field goal for the Orange to make it 13-7. But a Hockman touchdown pass gave State the lead right back.
Syracuse jumped out to a 20-7 advantage on a really nice 60-yard touchdown pass from Rex Culpepper to Nykeim Johnson, after Rex identified single coverage downfield. They’d add two more points after Hockman inexplicably chucked the ball out of the back of the end zone on a sack to make it 22-14 Orange; a lead they’d take into the half.
Things would go back and forth for a bit in the third quarter. State cut it to 22-20 but missed the two-point conversion. Then Culpepper found Taj Harris for a touchdown to make it 29-20. Hockman started attacking Syracuse’s top corners, however, with some success downfield for two more touchdowns, though. NC State was down 29-27 at the end of the third, then grabbed a 33-29 advantage, though missed on another two-point conversion.
State added a field goal with about five minutes left to make it 36-29. Syracuse drove into NC State territory on the ensuing drive, but despite some impressive work by Orange receivers — Harris, in particular — Culpepper inexplicably spiked the ball on fourth down (after a horrible sack) to end the team’s attempt to tie the game up late.
Without much going for the run game (12 yards), SU had to lean pretty heavily on the pass game and the results weren’t ideal save for some big plays. Culpepper was 23-of-45 for 254 yards — though he did have the two scores. But a hot-and-cold offense was only really in the game due to the special teams (big returns and a TD) plus the defense’s efforts.
Along with the aforementioned TD, Harris had an impressive 13 catches (tied for sixth-most ever for a Syracuse receiver in one game) and 146 yards, as Culpepper’s primary target all day. Anthony Queeley had three catches, and Nykeim Johnson obviously had that big touchdown catch, though it was also his only grab of the game. Courtney Jackson had two catches for 23 yards and Luke Benson had two for four yards. Aaron Hackett and Tucker each caught one pass as well.
Defensively, Ja’Had Carter had a busy day with 13 tackles, including a solo TFL and two assists. Jones had eight stops and Ifeatu Melifonwu had seven along with a sack. Marlowe Wax (two), Stefon Thompson, Kingsley Jonathan, Cody Roscoe and Curtis Harper all had TFLs as well — with the Orange collecting a season-high six sacks on the game.
Not the result we were looking for, but at least a more promising effort than anything we’ve seen since the Clemson game. The offense clearly has its issues, but this defense and special teams were thankfully good enough to make it a contest. Unfortunately that was probably our last chance at a win with Notre Dame up in the season finale.