Syracuse earns bowl eligibility with dramatic win over Wake Forest

SU earns bowl eligibility with dramatic win

The Orange beat Wake Forest 35-31 in the first game of the post-Babers era.

Dan Villari (#89) catches a 13 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Shrader on Novemeber 25, at the JMA Wireless Dome.
Theoplis Stewart II
Syracuse tight end Dan Villari catches a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Shrader during Saturday’s win for the Orange at the JMA Wireless Dome.

A head coach firing mixed with senior day festivities combined to give Syracuse football’s contest against Wake Forest an air of finality.

But there will be one more game.

After a week of adversity, and bowl eligibility on the line, the Orange pulled together to produce a 35-31 win over the Demon Deacons on Saturday afternoon that proved to be one of the most entertaining games of a topsy-turvy season.

“We just put the past behind us,” said redshirt sophomore tight end Dan Villari. “That’s pretty much what (interim head coach Nunzio Campanile) preached to us and he said we’re going to practice 100 percent every day and win this game.”

With Syracuse clinging to a 35-31 lead with just over two minutes left and Wake Forest driving, senior safety Jason Simmons came up with a critical interception of Wake Forest quarterback Michael Kern at the one-yard-line on a fourth-and-goal.

The Orange offense was able to pick up the first down that it needed to run out the clock.

This marks the first time Syracuse will appear in back-to-back bowl games since the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

“Tons of adversity this week and tons of adversity in the game,” Campanile said. “We really just battled through. Couldn’t be more proud of the way (the players) competed and the way they played.”

Syracuse University defeats Wake Forest 35-31 in a bowl qualifiying football game on Saturday in the Dome.
Theoplis Stewart
SU interim head coach Nunzio Campanile speaks with media in the Dome following Saturday’s 35-31 win over Wake Forest.

With Campanile taking charge as interim head coach, Syracuse still focused on establishing the running game. But for the first time in weeks, the passing game re-emerged.

The Orange were buoyed by the return of senior quarterback Garrett Shrader, who only played three snaps in last week’s loss to Georgia Tech. While still not at full strength, he proved a much more effective thrower than in weeks past.

Shrader finished the afternoon 10-for-15 for 173 passing yards, tossing three touchdowns and one interception. He added 46 rushing yards and another score on 10 attempts.

Though he could’ve sat out to prepare for his future beyond SU, Shrader was adamant about playing in the game.

“There’s too many guys on this team that work too hard,” an emotional Shrader said. “And I’m grateful for them and I wanted to send these guys out the right way.”

Syracuse’s 224 yards of passing offense were its most since facing Army on Sept. 23. It was the first time the Orange eclipsed 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards since the season-opener against Colgate.

Wide receiver Damien Alford, a senior honored before the game, was the beneficiary of the more aerial attack. Alford totaled four catches for 126 yards and two pivotal touchdowns.

The first scoring grab came on a third down, Shrader faked a run up the middle before throwing to Alford for a catch-and-run touchdown from 35 yards out to put the Orange up 7-0 just under eight minutes in.

Syracuse Orange players celebrate a 75 yard drive for a touchdown at Saturday's game against Wake Forest.
Theoplis Stewart II
SU players celebrate a 75-yard drive for a touchdown at Saturday’s game against Wake Forest.

At the end of the first half, it looked like the Shrader-Alford connection produced another score, but SU fell short and failed to run another play, falling victim once again to clock mismanagement — something that defined the later years of Babers’ tenure.

While that mistake would have certainly hurt Syracuse’s chances, the Orange atoned on their first possession of the second half when Villari uncorked a deep ball that fell right into Alford’s hands for a 47-yard touchdown that made it 21-10.

Villari finished the day with both a touchdown throw and reception. He totaled 51 passing yards, 51 rushing yards and caught a 13-yard touchdown.

Shrader added another touchdown strike, hooking up with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Umari Hatcher to put the Orange ahead 35-25 with just over ten minutes left before Wake attempted to stage its final comeback.

Sophomore running back LeQuint Allen Jr. was once again the workhorse, carrying a career-high 32 times for 144 yards and going over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in the process.

Kern finished the afternoon with 261 passing yards, tossing for three touchdowns. The Demon Deacons scored three second-half touchdowns, but couldn’t break the plane when it mattered most.

The Orange will now await their bowl destination while the program continues the search for a new head coach.