SU rides rushing attack and forced turnovers to win over Pitt at Yankee Stadium

SU rides rushing attack to win over Pitt at Yankee Stadium

The Orange returned to their winning ways on the 100th anniversary of the matchup at the old Yankee Stadium between the two schools.

SU tight end Dan Villari (#89) of the Syracuse Orange carries the ball during the second half of Saturday's game against Pittsburgh at Yankee Stadium.
SU tight end Dan Villari finished the game between SU and Pittsburgh as the team’s leading rusher.

When Syracuse and Pittsburgh squared off at the old Yankee Stadium on Oct. 20, 1923, the forward pass was still in its infancy—only 17 years old.

One hundred years later, in the new Yankee Stadium, Syracuse was forced to abandon football’s defining innovation in a game that would not have looked out of place in the early 20th century.

And, of course, the Orange won.

Syracuse football used a power-running attack and opportunistic defense to grind out a 28-13 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium.

“It was an outstanding performance by the football team,” head coach Dino Babers said. “We asked them to do something drastically different, and you can’t pull that off without belief.”

SU turned three second-half Pittsburgh turnovers into 21 unanswered points, flipping what looked like a sixth-consecutive loss into a much-needed win.

Syracuse finished the day with 17 passing yards on eight attempts.

After missing last week’s loss to Boston College, Syracuse senior quarterback Garrett Shrader was re-inserted as the starting signal caller. But he was a quarterback in name only.

It soon became apparent that Shrader was nursing a right shoulder injury and was not going to be an effective thrower. Instead, he functioned more as a runner and blocker, splitting out wide frequently as sophomore running back LeQuint Allen and sophomore tight end Dan Villari took several direct snaps.

The trio turned into a three-headed running attack in a positionless backfield. Shrader, Allen and Villari combined to run for 352 yards in a tribute to old-fashioned, Northeast football. The Orange tallied 382 rushing yards.

“We wanted to get physical, we wanted to go old school,” Babers said. “We wanted to go back 100 years to a 3-0 win at Yankee Stadium…and see if we could stir up the ghosts.”

The momentum flipped with the Panthers leading 13-7 at the start of the third quarter. The Panthers had the ball in Syracuse territory with a chance to make it a two-score game. Instead, a fumble gave the Orange a lifeline.

Syracuse capitalized.

Shrader kept and ran in for the score to put the Orange up 14-13 on a fourth-and-one from the Pitt 20 in the third quarter.

The Orange immediately got the ball back but turned the ball over on downs on the Pitt goal line.

With its ears pinned back, the SU defense was looking for a safety. The team got something better after freshman defensive back Jayden Bellamy—who recovered the earlier fumble—intercepted Pitt quarterback Christian Veilleux and returned the pick 23 yards for the score to put the Orange up 21-13 with just under two minutes left in the third.

On its next offensive sequence, Pittsburgh fumbled on its own 34, with defensive lineman Terry Lockett recovering for the Orange. Two plays later, Villari took a direct snap 27 yards to the endzone to give SU a 28-13 breathing room.

Another Panthers fumble with under five minutes remaining sealed the outcome and removed a bit of heat from Babers’ chair.

It is widely believed that the eighth-year head coach needs to clinch a bowl game to save his job.

After the game, Babers made a pointed comment about what he thinks a bowl game would mean for the program.

“I hope as coaches and players we can find a way to get (the team) an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done in 20 years around here, and that’s back-to-back bowl games with the same head football coach.”

Villari finished as the team’s leading rusher with 17 carries for 154 yards and a touchdown. He was also the leading passer with 12 yards. Allen also went over the century mark, going for 102 yards on 28 attempts.

For his part, Shrader racked up 96 rushing yards and managed to float a touchdown pass to tight end Maximilian Mang on the first drive of the game, one of his only two passes.

He also finished the game with a confounding backflip.

This is just SU’s third win in the last 19 games of the rivalry and its first victory over Pitt since the 2017 season.

The Orange will have a chance to get their sixth win and clinch bowl eligibility Saturday at Georgia Tech. Kick-off is at 8 p.m.