Taylor Baucom | Contributing PhotographerFootball
BOWLED OVER: Syracuse stuns Missouri with late touchdown, clinches bowl eligibility for 2nd time in 3 years
Syracuse 31, Missouri 27
COLUMBIA, Mo. — He learned from his father, the man whose blood now flows through Nathaniel Hackett’s veins. As a young kid in the coaching box, he observed a man oozing poise in situations that were poisonous.
Lose your cool and you’ll lose your quarterback. Once he’s gone, so too is the game.
Those moments growing up beside Paul Hackett, a man who spent 19 years in the National Football League, nurtured his protégé’s inner “Zen.” He absorbed the calm and now exudes the cool, which flows seamlessly to his quarterback.
“I knew that that was the force that drove the two-minute offense,” said Hackett, Syracuse’s offensive coordinator. “So for some reason when that happens, I almost go into like a Zen. I don’t hear anything, I don’t see anything, I am just looking right at that field. All I’m doing is trying to be one with Ryan Nassib.”
And together they orchestrated the most improbable of drives on Faurot Field on Saturday, putting together an 81-yard trek to bowl eligibility that stunned a crowd of 63,045. From Hackett to Nassib the plays flowed beautifully, and from Nassib to Alec Lemon the ball flew repeatedly, until Lemon crossed the goal line with 20 seconds remaining for the game-winning touchdown in a 31-27 victory over Missouri.
It transformed Zen into euphoria and calm into crazy, as Syracuse (6-5, 4-2 Big East) earned its first win over a Southeastern Conference opponent in more than a decade.
“Holy wow,” Hackett said. “That was unbelievable. That was awesome.”
Especially considering the game appeared all but lost only minutes earlier when the self-killing ways of the Orange seemed to have resurfaced.
With the game knotted at 24-24, Nassib fired a pass over the middle to tight end Beckett Wales that ricocheted off his hands and up into the air. Randy Ponder intercepted it with 4:24 remaining, giving Missouri possession at midfield with an opportunity win the game on a short field.
A field goal handed the Tigers the lead, but it also set the scene for Nassib’s latest bit of heroics. With 1:43 on the clock, Nassib and Co. began a drive that will one day be viewed as legendary at their own 19-yard line.
Eighty-one yards away was bowl eligibility, a season-defining win and a reversal of last year’s collapse that haunted the program during a nine-month, bowl-less offseason.
“When we’ve got time on the clock the way Ryan is playing and the connection with Alec Lemon and the rest of the receivers, we’ve got a chance at the end. I like our offense. I like what we’re doing.”
Doug Marrone, SU head coach
“When we’ve got time on the clock the way Ryan is playing and the connection with Alec Lemon and the rest of the receivers, we’ve got a chance at the end,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said. “I like our offense. I like what we’re doing.”
Using the two-minute section of his play card, Hackett dialed up what he described as Nassib’s favorite plays. And Nassib continuously turned to his favorite receiver — Lemon.
Back-to-back completions to Lemon moved the ball across midfield and into Missouri territory as the clock ticked past the one-minute mark. The drive stalled following three consecutive misfires by Nassib, setting up a fourth-and-10 play that will haunt the Tigers should they fall short of a bowl game with a loss next week.
Lemon, who finished with a career-high 244 yards, broke inside from the left of the formation, and Nassib rifled a pass to him despite the pair of Missouri defenders in coverage. But Lemon surged forward, sliding down to make a catch over the middle and keep the drive alive.
On the next play he lined up to the right of the formation in the back of a trio of wide receivers. He would run a wheel route, arching out toward the sideline before taking off up field. He was the safety valve, the quick option for Nassib in case Missouri blitzed.
The Tigers brought everyone.
“It was like a sign from God,” Nassib said. “That’s exactly the play we wanted against that defense.”
As seven of the 11 Missouri defenders hurled themselves at Nassib, Lemon leaked to the right uncovered with yards of green turf between him and the nearest Tiger. He plucked Nassib’s pass out of the air and raced down the sideline, diving just inside the right pylon for the game-winning score. He had caught every pass on the drive.
The result was a frenzy along the Syracuse sideline, as the realization of a bowl game sank in and the weight of last season’s epic collapse subsided.
The celebration on the field was matched by elation above, where Hackett’s Zen became zany.
“I freaked out,” Hackett said. “My shirt was over my head, and I didn’t know what to do.
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