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Fittingly, it’s Eric Dungey who leads Syracuse to Camping World Bowl win

There were some doubts in there for a few, but the Orange senior was the man for the job one last time.

Camping World Bowl - West Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Through the first half of Friday night’s 34-18 Camping World Bowl win, there was something iffy about the Syracuse Orange offense.

SU was up 14-12, but the West Virginia Mountaineers generated pressure with relative ease and had Eric Dungey on the run for what felt like 30 straight minutes. The senior Orange quarterback was just 7-of-14 for 110 yards, and was sacked five times. I said on Twitter that he was playing a bit of “hero ball” and pressing too much. I saw several Syracuse fans calling for Tommy DeVito to take the reins, as was typical when Dungey struggled early at any point this year.

And yet, Dungey didn’t appear to panic. He’d finish the game a pretty accurate 21-of-30 for 303 yards, one touchdown and a score. The second half line was 14-of-16 for 193 and a TD. Nothing eye-popping, necessarily, but the work of a veteran player who’d grown as a passer over the course of his record-setting career.

It should come as no surprise that Dungey became the program’s all-time leading passer during the game’s second half as well.

Camping World Bowl - West Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

But the bigger takeaway was how he played with his (and Syracuse’s) back against the wall. The Orange were off their game early, and he played a role in that. When they began rolling downhill late, it was largely because of his performance too, however. Nearly everyone here cast their respective doubts about his abilities at some point or another during this magical season. Yet in the end, he proved us all wrong — while also doing things his own way.

You’ll probably recount the fourth quarter reception to Moe Neal for years to come. It’ll inhabit bar stories and tales of “Babers’s first great year at SU” for me for quite awhile, I already know.

Rolling out, Dungey was under pressure immediately and seemed dead-to-rights in the backfield. As he’s been wont to do, though, he lofted one up into space. The same basic idea had resulted in an interception earlier in the game. This time around, it was a miracle 42-yard reception by Moe Neal that set up the dagger Orange touchdown.

You can’t necessarily credit Dungey for the expert run after the catch by Neal, but the amazing play to keep the drive alive and put the ball somewhere near a receiver could certainly be attributed to him. It’s also just the final chapter in a long list of moments that we’ll look back on fondly. Hero ball was a frustrating characteristic of the Eric Dungey experience at Syracuse. But it was also what first earned him our faith against Wake Forest in 2015. And what would do so time and time again when all appeared lost.

So with win No. 10 now complete, of course it’s appropriate that Dungey would be the man most (individually) responsible for getting us there.

It almost didn’t work out this way, as you recall by now. Dino Babers hyped the quarterback competition between Dungey and DeVito in preseason, and after the latter passer led a furious comeback over UNC mid-season, there were doubts aplenty about whether Dungey would finish the season as the starter.

He would, obviously, beginning with a 411-yard passing effort against NC State for the team’s sixth win of the year. Dungey was knocked out of the Notre Dame game, and the obvious injury fears returned. But closing with back-to-back victories over rivals BC and West Virginia kept the ending of the story exactly how it was supposed to be: Dungey as leader, MVP and champion.

No matter which or how many records DeVito and future Orange quarterbacks break, I think we’ll look back on Dungey, this team and this game in particular, as the moments that led to whatever’s next. Every player and coach on this team, and every fan here deserved this win over WVU. The fact that Dungey was the one to deliver it was the part that felt most satisfying, though.

The Eric Dungey era may be over for Syracuse, but it also serves as the fulcrum for something else going forward. It’s no storybook, trust me — no one in one of those would ever get knocked around as much as Dungey does. It’s just a fitting and wonderfully imperfect conclusion for a career that gave us a hell of a lot this last few years, and then finally delivered something more to the guy behind all of those memorable moments.