Another slow start for Syracuse (1-2) almost allowed Stony Brook (2-1) to pull off the upset. But a second half turnaround by the Orange halted any chance of a Sea Wolves comeback, and Syracuse won its first game of the year 28-17 Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
Playing Stony Brook for the first time ever, the Orange went into the game expecting to dominate, running back Prince-Tyson Gulley said. But after Stony Brook struck first off of quarterback Kyle Essington’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Norell, Syracuse knew they were in for a much tighter game.
“I was very surprised,” Gulley said. “They were beating us at what we wanted to do.”
Syracuse responded almost immediately with a 61-yard catch-and-run screen pass from Ryan Nassib to Gulley. The running back caught the ball in the backfield and ran up the sideline until he found the end zone and tied the game at 7-7 with 10:43 left in the first quarter.
“I just caught the ball, got some good blocks from my teammates and just didn’t look back,” Gulley said. “We were just trying to get back to what we do best.”
Stony Brook’s surprisingly stingy defense stymied Nassib on multiple occasions in the first half. Nassib was 2-6 in the first quarter for only 69 yards and touchdown, 61 of those yards coming on the Gulley run. He finished the half throwing 6-15 and 112 yards.
The Orange had multiple three-and-out drives that allowed the Sea Wolves to hold onto the ball longer on offense.
“The teams that we’ve played so far, they come out with a good scheme in the beginning, and they really show stuff that we haven’t seen yet,” Nassib said. “We expect something, and they throw something else at us.
When Nassib did finally figure out the offense and produce a long drive, kicker Ross Krautman was unable to put points on the board. Krautman missed a 45-yard and a 38-yarder, both in the second quarter.
It wasn’t until the end of the second quarter that Nassib really began finding holes in the Stony Brook’s secondary. After Jarrod West hauled in a 31-yard reception, freshman Ashton Broyld, the athletic quarterback who also runs and catches the ball scored his first SU touchdown on a 22-yard run. That gave the Orange its first lead of the day, going up 14-10 with six minutes remaining in the half.
“Ashton is a very talented kid,” Nassib said. “He’s got the potential to break out on any play.”
The Sea Wolves retook the lead before the half ended. Running back Miguel Maysonet ran through scores of SU defenders en route to a 71-yard touchdown to give Stony Brook a 17-14 lead.
The big play has continued to hurt the Orange. Head coach Doug Marrone noted that in its last two games, Syracuse allowed big plays that contributed to its defeat.
“We’ve been burned in three games,” Marrone said. “It’s a matter of focus and evaluating it, and doing a better job.”
The second half was a different SU football team. Syracuse received the ball to open the third quarter, and Nassib lit up the offense, leading a 9-play, 88-yard drive that ended with a West touchdown and the Orange regaining the lead 21-17.
“When we go into halftime and make those second half adjustments, that’s key for us,” Nassib said.
Syracuse stepped up defensively as well. The Orange continually halted any sort of Stony Brook drive. Tackling, which Marrone said was a big problem in the first half, was something that the Orange excelled at in the second.
The two teams traded possessions in the fourth quarter until Nassib and Sales found each other three times in one drive for 71 yards, ending with a touchdown. Sales has scored in each game this season for a total of four times.
“Marcus [Sales] understands the game a lot – better than what he did when he first got here,” Nassib said. “He knows what he does best and he knows how to work people and get open. I really don’t doubt that he is going to be open a lot of times. Sometimes my read doesn’t go to him, but I throw it to him anyways because he does such a good job of that. His experience and being able to work anybody are reasons why he’s doing so well.”
After Sales gave the Orange a 28-17 lead, the SU defense stopped every Stony Brook drive, giving Syracuse its first win of the season.
“They said that we were the best 0-2 team in the country,” Broyld said. “Now, we are the best 1-2 team in the country. It was very big for us and our confidence. We know what we have, and we just need to keep putting it together each week.”