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Here’s to Zack Mahoney: Syracuse Football’s Mr. November

Eric Dungey’s annual injuries have opened the door for Zack Mahoney to succeed late in the season

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Mahoney is the greatest 1-6 quarterback in the history of Syracuse Orange football.

Mahoney’s story is already legend with SU fans. The JUCO College of DuPage quarterback came to Syracuse in 2015 as a preferred walk-on and we all assumed he was a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency backup who would never see the field for meaningful snaps.

Then, A.J. Long was ruled ineligible. Then, Terrel Hunt was lost early in the 2015 season. Then, freshman phenom Eric Dungey went down with injury. All of a sudden, Mahoney was the Syracuse starting quarterback when the mighty LSU Tigers came to town looking for an easy victory. LSU got that win but it certainly wasn’t easy. Mahoney acquitted himself well with a three-touchdown performance and we all wondered how in the hell that happened.

Dungey would return and Mahoney saw spot duty for the next month or so before another concussion sidelined the star QB for the rest of the season. And so, Mahoney took the reigns once more when the Orange hosted the No. 1 Clemson Tigers on November 14. Again, the Orange played the more talented team tough. And even though his statline wasn’t much to look at it, you couldn’t argue with the fact that Zack had his team in it in the fourth quarter.

Syracuse v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Mahoney would quarterback the Orange in a loss to NC State the following week before finally earning his first legitimate win as a starter. Alas, it was Coach Shafer’s final game at the helm, but the 20-17 victory over Boston College let SU and Mahoney go out as winners on the year.

As 2016 rolled around, we were all pretty clear that Dungey was the starter in spite of whatever doubt Dino Babers tried to instill. What we wondered was whether or not Mahoney would beat out Austin Wilson for the backup role. Anointed with a new scholarship, Zack did just that. While some questioned the need for Mahoney to take a scholarship away from a potential value recruit, the QB would go on to prove his worth when the results of the 2015 season repeated themselves in 2016.

Mahoney once again saw spot duty in SU’s first three games, going 7-of-8 for 97 yards. Then, as seems to be an annual tradition now, Dungey went down with a season-ending injury and Zack was thrust into the leadership role against Clemson. He only attempted a few passes in the loss but it was the first of four November 2016 games that he would lead the Orange in.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

2016 ended with the three biggest games of Zack Mahoney’s career, at least stats-wise. He was 14-of-25 for 190 yards with one TD and one INT in a loss to NC State. He followed that up by going 16-of-36 for 196 yards with two TDs and two INTS in a loss to Florida State. And then there was this past weekend, when Mahoney etched his name in the Syracuse record books.

As the quarterback behind a 61-point performance, Mahoney finished 43-of-61 for 440 yards, five TDs, and one INT. That’s second all-time at SU in completions, attempts, and yards in one game. Whatever happens from here on out, Zack Mahoney’s name will be among some of the greats to ever suit up for Syracuse.

So this, unfortunately, is the part where I remind you that Eric Dungey is still far and away the better option to Mahoney. Dungey has more talent, more ability, and a better arm. I say this not to denigrate Zack, because I think he’s great, but it’s just truth-telling. Mahoney has done admirably when thrust into the starting role by injury, but one amazing statistical performance does not erase everything else. Mahoney racked up the numbers vs. Pitt, but he looked completely overmatched in the previous two games. So if you’re going to apply weight to the Pitt game, you have to give fair due to the NC State and FSU ones as well.

But that doesn't mean we can’t appreciate what the mustachioed Mahoney has accomplished so far in his career. As Rex Culpepper works his way up the roster and a wild Tommy DeVito appears, the grip Mahoney has on the No. 2 spot gets less tenable. He certainly has the experience to trump either of them but they both come to Syracuse with scholarships in hand and the talent to match.

So we’ll see how 2017 unfolds. There’s always the distressing reality that Eric Dungey never sees another snap for Syracuse. And even if he does, he’s been so injury-prone and already has enough concussions on his record to make any kind of long-term expectations moot. Zack Mahoney may yet ride again. But even if he doesn’t, he’s served Syracuse well as our caretaker in the precarious November months of 2015 and 2016 when we needed a little bit of hope. He was the one who stepped up to provide it.

Thanks, Officer Mahoney.