As Ravian Pierce emerged from the back of the end zone to deafening Carrier Dome roars, it signaled many things: an incredible comeback, a sign of relief, and—potentially—the end of an era with a new beginning.
Redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito entered in the fourth quarter and fueled a comeback that ended with the Syracuse Orange (5-2, 2-2) edging out the North Carolina Tar Heels (1-5, 1-3) by a score of 40-37 in double overtime.
SU’s defense showed some weakness at the outset. Bolstered mainly by screens and quick passes of five to ten yards, the Tar Heels easily marched downfield on their first drive, taking a 7-0 lead after quarterback Nathan Elliott dumped a six-yard pass to Dazz Newsome.
‘Cuse then moved quickly on its first drive to get inside the Carolina 30. However, after a couple of bad throws by Dungey forced the Orange to kick, redshirt freshman kicker Andre Szmyt made a are error, booting his 44-yard kick knocking off the left goalpost and keeping SU off the scoreboard.
Eric Dungey’s offensive struggles continued throughout the ballgame, as the senior finished 17 of 33 passing for 225 yards an no touchdowns, with the yard total getting a big boost from a 68-yard sideline bomb to Jamal Custis.
The Orange offense lagged for most of the ballgame.
After Syracuse took a 20-7 lead on a touchdown to start the 3rd quarter, North Carolina scored 20 unanswered points and owned the lead near the very end of regulation.
Then, with less than four minutes to go, Coach Babers changed it up and put DeVito behind center, something coach said he knew the redshirt freshman was ready for.
“Once you do what you did against Florida State, the cobwebs and that stuff is by you,” Babers said of the quarterback. “I didn’t know if he was going to be good, I didn’t know if he was going to be bad, but I did know that the moment was not going to be too big for him.”
Surely enough, DeVito answered the call. In his first play on the field, he launched a 50-yard bomb to the left side that Jamal Custis caught in stride. The Orange reached the red zone on that drive, but failed to convert on a fourth down from 10 yards out.
The onus to keep Syracuse in the ballgame then fell on the defense, who had to give SU another chance on offense down by seven with 2:29 on the clock and two timeouts.
“We huddled up and someone in there said to do your 1/11th, to just do your job,” cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu said. “It gave a sense of motivation that went through the whole defense.”
When Tar Heels running back Antonio Williams picked up five yards on the first play of the drive, the Orange stood tall, forcing a three and out after holding quarterback Nathan Elliott to a one yard pickup on a scrambled and forcing an incompletion.
Once SU had the ball back, DeVito only needed three plays to tie up the ballgame, finishing off the drive with a 42-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Nykeim Johnson.
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime before the North Carolina offense came to a screeching halt in the second, with Elliott tossing two incomplete passes before getting sacked for a loss of six. UNC had to settle for the field goal, which Freeman Jones managed to do from 48 yards out to take a 37-34 lead.
The Orange only needed five more plays, with DeVito icing the contest on a 4-yard pop pass to a completely uncovered Pierce, who earned the shining moment in his first game back from injury.
Syracuse is now moves up to five wins for the first time since 2013. Sitting only one win away from a bowl berth, the Orange is the closest it’s been since that season.
“This win does give us momentum going into the next one, but we try to play every game the same,” said wide receiver Jamal Custis.