Before the game even began, the crowd was applauding the Syracuse Orange’s Eric Dungey and the seniors. When the seniors walked out for their senior day recognition, the then half-filled Carrier Dome clapped their hands, recognizing their diligence and perseverance over the past four or five years.
“Playing at Syracuse has been an incredible experience,” senior Kielan Whitner said. “Just the history here and all the guys who came before us. It’s good that we go in our last season and have a winning season and give this program and the fans what they deserve.”
They did plenty of that on Friday night, as No. 13 Syracuse crushed the Louisville Cardinals, 54-23.
Syracuse, with No. 3 Notre Dame looming, rarely appeared distracted — or at least, didn’t until garbage time. It was a night designed for the seniors, and the fourth- and fifth-years surely played a key part. Dungey totaled two touchdowns on the ground and one through the air, seniors Ryan Guthrie and Whitner tallied 16 tackles combined tackles with three for a loss, and fifth year Chris Slayton was a part of two sacks.
“This team has a fire within itself and that’s a collective thing,” SU head coach Dino Babers said. “They understand that they can win close games. They’ve been in a bunch of close games… They understand that they’re capable, when playing well, to compete with anyone. Now, we’re gonna have to see and really put that to the test with the next couple of opponents we have.”
Even after junior Sean Riley fumbled the first punt return of the game, the Orange were not fazed. The defense responded by stopping the Cardinals at the Syracuse 42. With the help of a few Louisville penalties, ‘Cuse received the ball right back.
Yet, the Orange offense still appeared half-asleep, unable to run or throw the ball on a porous Louisville defense. One drive later, it received the jolt it needed from its special teams.
With the Cardinals poised to take the lead, junior Josh Black tipped Blanton Creque’s 50-yard field goal attempt. It fell to fifth year senior Antwan Cordy who returned it to the Louisville 41. One play later, Dungey found Riley at the Louisville 4. Freshman Jarveon Howard would eventually punch in the opening score of the game.
The Orange never looked back, outscoring the Cardinals 30-7 in the second quarter and forcing four turnovers on four straight possessions, including an interception from freshman Andre Cisco.
“We didn’t score on every possession but you really don’t have to when you got Andre,” Babers said. “He’s not gonna miss.”
In the second half, it was more of the same. On the very first play of the third quarter, junior Moe Neal erupted for 68 yards to the Louisville 7 yard line. After penalties from both sides, Dungey crunched his way into the endzone for a one yard score.
At the end of the game, Dungey, Slayton, and the other seniors walked a lap around the Dome, high-fiving whichever fans remained. This is the first time that Dino Babers has seen his seniors do this after a win, but it’s hopefully the first of many opportunities going forward.
“I felt a lot of love and support from the loyal fans,” senior Jamal Custis said. “We’ve been through a lot for the past five years. For them fans to be happy for us like they were, it just felt like real family.”