Game of Inches

Syracuse falls inside the Carrier Dome on Saturday 17-16 to the Pittsburgh Panthers.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's a game of inches, and Syracuse came up on the wrong end of that short stick. The Orange had several opportunities to become bowl eligible, but let them literally slip through their fingers. In a tight, 17-16 loss to Pittsburgh in the Carrier Dome, three dropped passes in the end zone and missed kicks haunted the Orange.

"It's a game of a six inch war," head coach Scott Shafer said after the game. "From play to play. That Aaron Donald did a nice job for them. He's a good football player. He was in our backfield all day. We couldn't get him cut off on the backside away from plays. Hats off to them (Pittsburgh). They're a good football team over there. Both teams banged up and they found a way to get it done a little bit better than we did today."

Things didn't start poorly for Syracuse, who forced a quick three and out defensively. The offense then put together it's best drive of the game, scoring in four plays over 1:12, capped by a Jerome Smith 36-yard scamper. Smith finished with 88-yards rushing on 17 carries.

The Syracuse defense kept them in the game throughout, hitting Pitt quarterback Tom Savage seemingly every time he dropped back to pass. The Orange finished with only three sacks, two by Cam Lynch, but were much more successful putting pressure on the Panthers than the numbers would suggest.

With Syracuse clinging to a 6-3 lead in the middle of the second quarter, Pitt converted a critical third and long on a completion to Tyler Boyd that gave the Panthers offense some life. They finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Savage to Manasseh Garner.

After Kevin Weatherspoon fumbled a punt return late in the half, Syracuse had a golden opportunity to regain the lead. Terrel Hunt threw two beautiful passes into the end zone, but both were dropped. Devante McFarlane let the first slip off his fingertips.

Two plays later, Durell Eskridge came in to help out a depleted Orange receiving corps and nearly made a huge play. Streaking down the sideline, Hunt floated a pass perfectly as Eskridge got behind the Pitt secondary. He snatched the ball, but bobbled it as he was landing and it was ruled incomplete. Syracuse settled for a field goal to cut the Pitt lead to 10-9 at intermission.

"I thought he (Eskridge) made a nice move on the guy," coach Shafer said. "He had it. Dog-gonnit that was close…It's a game of inches, man."

Syracuse regained the lead midway through the third quarter as Hunt finally connected on a deep ball, this one to Alvin Cornelius from 42-yards out. Cornelius dove to make a difficult touchdown catch, the first of his career. He led Syracuse in receiving yards with 53 on two catches.

The 16-10 lead was short lived, however.

The Panthers finished a nine play, 88-yard drive that gave the Panthers a 17-16 lead as time expired in the third quarter. The Orange would have chances in the final frame, but could not take advantage of those opportunities.

"We came up six inches short," coach Shafer said. "We came up, half a second or quarter of a second short. That's life, man. We're not going to sit here and sulk about it because then we're being soft. We're not going to be soft around here. Frustrated? Hell yeah."

Early in the fourth, Hunt had Quinta Funderburk open down the field, but threw it just a bit late. Funderburk still had a chance to make a play on the ball. It ultimately slipped through his hands, but a penalty gave Syracuse new life.

They could not move the ball any further, however, and Ryan Norton missed a 41-yard wide right that would have given Syracuse the lead. Hunt finished 18-28 passing with 159-yards and one touchdown.

On Syracuse's last possession, they moved the ball into Pitt territory, but were facing a fourth and eight at the 36. The Orange used a mass substitution to make it appear as if they were bringing on the field goal unit for a 53-yard try. Trickery was in order, however, as Kendall Moore, looking as if he was running off the field, stopped at the boundary and lined up in the formation.

Pitt left him unguarded, and as Syracuse was snapping the ball to throw to an Moore, head coach Paul Chryst called timeout just in time. The play would worked for a first down minimum, if not a potential game winning touchdown. The next play, Syracuse went for fourth down and could not convert, giving Pittsburgh the 17-16 win in the Carrier Dome.

"We came up six inches short," coach Shafer said. "We came up, half a second or quarter of a second short. That's life, man. We're not going to sit here and sulk about it because then we're being soft. We're not going to be soft around here. Frustrated? Hell yeah."

Syracuse falls to 5-6 on the season, and will face Boston College on November 30th for a 3:30pm kickoff.


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