Courtesy of Tampa Bay TimesFootball
UNBELIEVABLE: Syracuse completes 2nd-half comeback with late scoring drive to shock South Florida
Syracuse 37, South Florida 36
TAMPA, Fla. — Doug Marrone thought Syracuse scored twice. Ryan Nassib thought his team lost. A frenetic six seconds encapsulated more high-intensity drama than the preceding four quarters of back-and-forth football that had momentum swinging from sideline to sideline.
With six seconds remaining in the game, Nassib rolled to his right and delivered a pinpoint pass to wide receiver Alec Lemon, who caught the pass and fell to the ground, grasping the catch and clinching the Orange’s 37-36 win over South Florida in front of 38,562 fans at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night. It was SU’s biggest comeback victory on record dating back to 1942. Syracuse was out of the game in the first half, and it looked like USF would pull out another victory over the Orange.
But in the final 83 seconds, Syracuse wiped out all of that.
“All three phases contributed to us getting into trouble,” Marrone said. “All three phases contributed to us winning the game.”
The first half was ugly for Syracuse. It saw the Orange fail to punch the ball in from within the 5 yard line on six separate plays, and Ross Krautman missed a 22-yard field goal.
The Bulls, meanwhile, clicked on virtually every play. The USF running game spearheaded by tailback Lindsey Lamar and quarterback B.J. Daniels gashed the previously stout SU defense for 210 yards in the first half.
Marrone had to deliver a halftime speech to his team that called on his players to forget the first half, forget what the scoreboard read. As little of a chance as it might have seemed, SU could still come back.
“I think that’s what you have to do to win,” Marrone said. “Your good players have to play well for you to win, and in the end, that’s what happens.”
It all came together from the very start of the second half.
Syracuse scored on its first drive when receiver Jarrod West hauled in a 31-yard pass to cut South Florida’s lead to 23-10. Durell Eskridge then blocked a punt that gave the Orange the ball at the Bulls’ 45 yard line. That drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Lemon on an end-around.
On South Florida’s first play of its ensuing drive, running back Demetris Murray fumbled and SU safety Shamarko Thomas recovered. The Orange had new life when it took its first lead at 24-23 on a 5-yard touchdown catch by Marcus Sales.
But two South Florida field goals and a touchdown gave the Bulls a 36-31 lead with just more than a minute remaining. The Orange’s comeback appeared to be a fleeting memory in a game destined to be remembered for Syracuse’s ineptitude early on.
“That’s the reason we play football, to make plays like that. To be in the spotlight, down five points, and have to score a touchdown to win with no timeouts.”
Alec Lemon, SU wide receiver
The Orange had just 1:23 to go 75 yards to avoid another deflating loss. Somehow, Nassib said he didn’t feel pressure.
“Not really,” Nassib said. “That’s something we knew what we had to do and there was no point in putting extra pressure on ourselves to do something that we haven’t prepared to do.”
Marrone said he wanted to put the game in the hands of his best players.
A 24-yard completion to West on first down moved the chains. Then came a 20-yard pass to Sales. After two incompletions made it third-and-10 at the South Florida 36 yard line, the game seemed to be slipping away.
The fans remaining in the stands rose to their feet. The tension on each sideline intensified. Then Nassib connected with Sales for another 20-yard gain. After a short completion and an illegal formation penalty, SU faced second-and-14 at the Bulls’ 20.
And then Nassib hit Sales for a 19-yard pickup to move the ball to the 1 yard line. Syracuse ran down to the line of scrimmage, snapped the ball and Nassib pushed forward into the end zone on a quarterback sneak.
But it was called back. USF head coach Skip Holtz bolted up the sideline screaming he called timeout. He got it.
“I see a flag go up, I see someone calling a timeout, and I was trying to say, ‘No,’” Marrone said. “I was trying to say, ‘Wait a minute, we scored twice.’ My argument was we snapped the ball already.”
The clock was reset to six seconds. SU had one final shot. One last chance to erase the first half and complete its comeback.
Nassib took the snap and hit Lemon for the final play. Syracuse breathed a collective sigh of relief. Its sideline exploded with euphoria.
“That’s the reason we play football — to make plays like that,” Lemon said. “To be in the spotlight, down five points, and have to score a touchdown to win with no timeouts.”
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