What a game this was to be at.
The Syracuse Orange needed a win to play on, and after a well-fought tug-of-war against Wake Forest, ‘Cuse came out on top, 35-31. There was uncertainty across the board entering the game: How would Nunzio Campanile perform as the interim head coach? Would Garrett Shrader play in what could have been his final game in college? How would Senior Day be for those who gave years of service to the program?
In the end, all those questions have been answered. Positively. And it’s why I’m glad to have the following takeaways from a defining victory.
Battle of Attrition
Right from the start, it was obvious that this game wasn’t going to be decided by any one drive. For every blow that SU delivered, the Demon Deacons gave it right back. Shrader dueled with Wake Forest QB Michael Kern through the air. Taylor Morin and Damien Alford took over the skies with over 100 receiving yards each.
SU had the only sack in the game. Both teams only punted ONCE.
The penalties were few and far between for both sides, with a combined 10 between the two teams - and even some of them were as ticky tacky as they come.
Honestly, this is just how Syracuse and Wake Forest tend to play one another, and I am here for this wacky rivalry to develop into, well, a rivalry. When the Deacs came to the Dome two years ago, the game went to overtime. Last year, it was a shootout. This time, despite both teams being at the bottom of the ACC, they still found enough reason to give every last ounce of energy they had to try scraping out a win. It’s a matchup that should be circled every year until they prove us otherwise.
It Just Works
Unlike Todd Howard’s promise for an immersive video game experience, the Orange offense was actually engaging in a variety of ways. They moved the ball with precision, chewing a ton of clock while doing so, yet managed to sprinkle in splash plays to go along with the run-heavy packages.
The passing game finally exploded, with Shrader’s arm somewhat functional after a week off. I give him endless credit for playing through the pain and discomfort to guide the Orange to a victory. Honestly, with the way Wake played, I don’t think they’d have won if it wasn’t for him.
But Garrett can’t get all the credit. Dan Villari is an Absolute Beast.
Maybe that’s what I’ll name a sports blog someday.
Need a receiver? No way is he dropping a pass. Gotta run somebody through traffic? You might as well put a snowplow on him because he can move that much weight. Oh, and remember how he was originally a QB? Yeah, his throwing arm still has some serious strength, as evidenced by a clean 40-yard dot to Alford on the first drive of the 2nd half.
And of course, LeQuint Allen is the unsung hero of this team. I don’t care that he’s only a sophomore, the maturity and resilience he possesses is something you’d rarely see from even a four-year starter. He rallied this team when they were at their lowest - and of course he never gave up at his lowest in the offseason - and we should all show him some respect and gratitude for being a proud member of the Orange.
...I’m also not going to overlook that the defense had a rough game, but guess what? They’ve been bailing out the offense for the last month. They’re depleted, gassed, whatever adjective you can come up with. And yet they came through when it mattered most: at the very start, and without a doubt at the very end.
Nunzio: Won and 0
I’ve barely met Coach Campanile and I already want to run through a brick wall for him. Maybe because it wouldn’t really be for him.
For the most part, Nunzio was focused on what the team needed throughout the week. He took feedback from the captains while preparing the gameplan. He was very open about what the process of losing a coach mid-season is like - relaying the knowledge he gained when the same situation happened at Rutgers. And he accomplished exactly what myself, SU Athletics, and many others wanted: he let Senior Day be about the players, not the coach.
There was mixed reaction when discussing Dino Babers in the postgame - some players thanked him, others wanted nothing more to do with him. But Nunzio made it clear that Dino brought him in and welcomed him to the Syracuse family, a family that he now truly understands the importance of.
We don’t know for sure whether Campanile will coach the bowl game, or if a new hire will jump right in before then. We also don’t know if he will return to Syracuse in 2024 when the new staff takes over. Either way, the interim headset holder helped get SU to that point and continue the program’s upward progress. Congratulations to him for what should be a highlight of his career... so far.