Andrew Renneisen | Photo EditorFootball
ONE TOO MANY: Costly mistakes by Syracuse waste comeback bid in 42-41 loss
Facing third-and-15 from the 27-yardline and trailing by six with 58 seconds remaining, Northwestern took a timeout. The Wildcats needed to convert a first down on the next two plays to stay alive against Syracuse.
On third down, Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian scrambled from the pocket and veered toward the left sideline to get out of bounds with a nine-yard gain.
SU cornerback Keon Lyn met him with a push, drawing a flag from the referees for roughing the passer and giving the Wildcats a first down at the 9-yard line
“When you’re trying to run after the ball and you see him do that, it’s more like, ‘Damn, come on man,’” defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “But then after that, as soon as that ‘come on man,’ you have to say forget about it, you got to come back together as a group, get tight and be like, you know what, we got another down to play.”
That next down proved to be the difference as Siemian tossed a touchdown pass to the left corner of the end zone to lift Northwestern over Syracuse 42-41 in a wild season opener at the Carrier Dome in front of 37,830 Saturday. SU scored 28 unanswered points to move ahead by six with under three minutes to play, but ultimately couldn’t overcome the mental mistakes committed throughout the game.
The Orange committed 12 penalties for 72 yards, broke down on two punt returns and allowed Northwestern to return a fumble for a touchdown on a swing pass early in the second half.
“I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, we don’t have a lot of things to clean up,’” SU head coach Doug Marrone said. “But there’s a lot of good things out there and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
On Saturday, though, the miscues cost Syracuse a victory.
Trailing by eight, the Orange started with possession in the third quarter. A quick pass to Ashton Broyld picked up five yards and running back Jerome Smith converted on third down with an 11-yard run.
Nassib went to Smith with a screen to the left on first down, but Smith dropped the pass and the ball bounced on the turf. Smith stopped and looked back to Nassib, thinking the play was dead as an incomplete pass.
But Smith was behind the line of scrimmage, and Northwestern linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo picked up the loose ball and ran 33 yards for a touchdown.
“The pass behind the line, that’s something we got to do a better job with,” Marrone said. “That’s a free touchdown. That’s giving someone a free touchdown.”
It also gave Northwestern a comfortable 15-point lead.
The Orange responded as Ryan Nassib – who finished with 470 yards passing – led the offense back into the red zone on its ensuing possession.
But a penalty stalled the drive.
On third-and-7 from the 22, left guard Zack Chibane was whistled for a false start, pushing the offense back five yards. An errant pass by Nassib set up a 44-yard field goal attempt for kicker Ross Krautman, who pushed it wide left.
“That’s part of the game. There’s penalties both ways, that sort of thing,” SU defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said. “You got to just look at them, correct the ones you can correct and just move forward and get to game two.”
Shafer’s unit fell victim to the mental mistakes as well.
After the Orange jumped ahead with under three minutes remaining, the SU defense needed one more stop to seal the comeback victory.
The entire defense and sideline waved their arms furiously and turned to the crowd, imploring them to get louder. But as the adrenaline and the excitement grew, the Orange jumped offsides and the Northwestern offense began its final drive.
Northwestern covered 62 yards to get to the 18-yardline, where linebacker Dan Vaughan shot through the line for a sack that resulted in a nine-yard loss. The Wildcats called timeout and Marrone released some emotion with a first pump as he met his players on the field.
The Orange was 58 seconds from victory and confident as Northwestern stared at 3rd-and-15.
But the mental mistake by Lyn shifted momentum for a final time. The Orange played out the final 44 seconds and walked off the field defeated despite a remarkable second-half comeback.
Said Bromley: “If the referees say it’s a (penalty), you really can’t debate it so you try your best not to put yourself in those predicaments but you have to pull out the game.”
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