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Syracuse falls to Pitt, 44-37 in overtime: ‘We’ve got to get better’

The Orange fought back, but it wasn’t enough in a mistake-filled contest.

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

PITTSBURGH — The Syracuse Orange (4-2, 1-2) have to wait another game for its first road conference win after a trip to Heinz Field in the Steel City. Favored going into Saturday’s game versus the Pittsburgh Panthers, the Orange defense allowed 265 net rushing yards and committed one too many mistakes en route to a 44-37 overtime loss in Pittsburgh.

“This was a hard-fought contest between two teams who really wanted to win,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers noted after the game. “They made a couple more plays than us.”

Fast is the new fast

Less than two calendar years after these teams combined for 137 points in a 76-61 Pitt victory, the teams combined for 37 first-half points — 28 of them coming in the first quarter.

If “Orange is the new fast,” then Syracuse was on-#BRAND in the first quarter. Syracuse scored on its first two possessions as quarterback Eric Dungey looked sharp out of the gate. He completed his first three passes - gains of nine and seven yards to Sean Riley, and a 19-yard gain to Nykeim Johnson. Those plays were part of an 11-play scoring drive that took the first 4:06 off the clock.

Pitt (3-3, 2-1 ACC) gave the Orange the ball back after five plays. Syracuse defensive end Alton Robinson forced a fumble out of Shocky Jacques-Louis’ hands at Pitt’s 42 yard line. Andrew Armstrong fell on it and the Orange offense was in business again.

This time, Dungey did it with his legs. After gaining a first down to the Pitt 31, Dungey took a 29-yard keeper to Pitt’s 2-yard line. That set up a two-yard touchdown run by Jarveon Howard on the next play. The Orange led 14-0 within the first eight minutes of the game.

Pitt responded on the next drive in a big way. After Maurice Ffrench (with two F’s) took a hand-off for six yards, Pitt tailback Qadree Ollison shed three tackles en route to a 69-yard touchdown run. The ensuing PAT by Alex Kessman cut Syracuse’s lead in half. The Orange led 14-7 with 5:47 left in the quarter.

A scoop-and-score allowed Pitt to tie the Orange at 14 apiece. On the fifth play of Syracuse’s drive, Pitt linebacker Quintin Wirginis forced the ball out of Dungey’s hands. Defensive back Dane Jackson recovered it and took it 35 yards for the touchdown.

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

Just for kicks

Heinz Field shares the Panthers on Saturdays and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sundays. To say this record was set on Saturday is an understatement. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell converted a 53-yard field goal on December 4, 2017 as time expired to seal the Steelers 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers - which set a new Heinz Field record for field goal distance, including professional and college football. That record was broken twice in the second quarter on Saturday by Alex Kessman. He broke the record with a 54-yarder into the South end zone to give Pitt a 17-14 lead, and then he chased it with a 55-yarder on the next drive to put the Panthers up 20-14.

Syracuse’s lone scoring drive in the second quarter came off of the foot of Andre Szmyt. His 33-yarder cut the Pitt lead to three points. The Panthers led 20-17 into the half.

Going fast again

Pitt scored within the first minute of the second half. On the second play, panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett found Rafael Araujo-Lopes burning the orange secondary down the right sideline. Araujo-Lopes took it 68 yards to the house to give Pitt a 27-17 lead.

Immediately after that, the game was put on hold due to impending severe weather. The weather delay lasted for over an hour. According to Eric Dungey, it was almost a second halftime period for the Orange.

“(It gave us) a chance to lock in,” Dungey said regarding the delay. “In the first half, we weren’t doing our job and executing.”

Syracuse brought the game back into control in the third quarter - outscoring the Panthers by a touchdown. A pair of big plays to Taj Harris helped cut down the Pitt lead. Dungey found Harris for 27 yards to put the Orange in Pitt territory. The connection established itself again three plays later. A pass to Harris went for 22 yards and set the Orange up with first-and-goal on the Pitt 5. Jarveon Howard punched in his second TD of the day on the next play to cut the Pitt lead to 27-24.

Syracuse captured the lead near the end of the quarter with a drive comprised of - you guessed it - more big plays. A 15-yard pass to Harris, a 22-yard pass to Jamal Custis, and a 21-yard run by Dungey gave Syracuse a 31-27 lead at the end of the third.

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

To a stalemate

Syracuse’s defense and special teams clamped down on Pittsburgh, but the offense could not put a touchdown on the board in the fourth quarter. Szmyt converted a 29-yard attempt after Alton Robinson forced his second fumble of the game - giving the Orange the ball on the Pitt 31. Syracuse stalled at the 13-yard line before Szmyt’s field goal gave the Orange a 34-27 lead.

Pitt responded with a touchdown on the ensuing possession. Every play was a run for either Qadree Ollison or Darrin Hall, which turned out to be foreshadowing for the end of the game. Hall took in a wildcat formation snap from seven yards out to tie the game at 34-34.

Szmyt converted a career-high (and now tied for second-longest in Heinz Field history) 54-yard field goal to give the Orange a 37-34 lead with 5:53 remaining. Pitt took its time on the next drive and bled 5:45 off of the clock as Kessman nailed a 45-yard field goal with 0:08 left to tie it and send it to overtime.

Running wild

Pitt continued to run over the Syracuse defense in overtime... literally. Pickett did not attempt a pass. Ollison carried twice for 13 yards, and Hall carried it three times for 12 yards and a touchdown out of the wildcat formation.

The game was over as soon as Syracuse got the ball back on offense. Dungey looked for Nykeim Johnson in the corner of the end zone on the first play. Johnson was double-covered. The pass was intercepted by Therran Coleman. Pitt sealed the game and walked away with a 44-37 home win.

In describing the loss, Dungey was short of words.

“It hurts,” he said. “I hate losing. it hurts.”

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

By the numbers

Syracuse’s run defense permitted 190+ rushing yards to a running back for the second straight week. Clemson’s Travis Etienne rushed for 203 yards last week, and Pitt’s Qadree Ollison toted the ball for 192 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. Panthers running back Darrin Hall also totaled 107 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

Once again, Syracuse’s offense was out-gained. Pitt posted 402 yards on 67 total plays, while the Orange gained 372 net yards on 80 plays.

“We’ve got to get better,” Orange defensive end Kendall Coleman said. “We’ve got to figure it out... We need to make sure we’re in the right spots when we need to be.”

What’s next

Syracuse will rest next week before two games in a row at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Orange face North Carolina (1-3, 1-1 ACC) and No. 23 N.C. State (5-0, 2-0 ACC) on October 20 and 27, respectively.

“I think we’re playing better football than we have in the past,” Coleman said. “That being said, we’re not done yet. Still got a lot of growth (to do).”

Follow Corey Crisan on twitter @cdcrisan for coverage of SU Athletics.