It didn't start pretty, as Wake Forest marched 91-yards to take an early 7-0 lead on Syracuse. But the Orange controlled things from their scoring 30 unanswered points en route to a 30-7 road conference win.
“Very pleased with this victory today," head coach Scott Shafer said. "We always talk about adjusting to the elements. We’ve had a lot of kids injured. A lot of kids banged up. I really felt like we were going to have to gut this one out and they did. A lot of things that we have to continue to improve upon.
"But with some of the youth playing across the board, I was pleased with the effort. Really, obviously, pleased with the way the defense played creating two turnovers that turned into touchdowns. A great victory for our kids.”
Freshman quarterback A.J. Long was solid, leading two consecutive scoring drives after the Demon Deacons took the early lead. The second resulted in the Orange's first touchdown of the game and Long's first career rushing score as he scampered four-yards just inside the pilon after escaping Wake's pressure. He was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Syracuse since Joe Field in 2004, and the first true freshman quarterback to ever win his first start at Syracuse.
"He showed his athleticism down there in the red zone when he took off with it," Shafer said. "I know he’d like to get some plays back on some reads. He was in high school last year. We’re going to keep working with him."
Fellow freshman Steve Ishmael led the Orange in receiving with six catches for 72-yards. He nearly had this third score in two games on a fade route that was beautifully thrown by Long, but it was called back for offensive pass interference on a pick that helped free Ishmael.
Syracuse only piled on from there, paced by two defensive touchdowns. Robert Welsh intercepted Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford after Dyshawn Davis delivered a hit that knocked Wolford out of the game. Welsh returned the pick to the house. Early in third quarter, Brandon Reddish blitzed backup quarterback Tyler Cameron and forced a fumble. The ball bounced up into the waiting arms of Micah Robinson who returned it 51-yards for another defensive score.
"What happened today we do every single day in practice," Shafer said. "Coach Bullough puts them through a battery. Every single kid on the defense goes through, they tomahawk chop, they scoop and score, they cradle it. It’s always good to see those drills that you work everyday show up on the football field.”
The Orange defense held Wake to only 170-yards of total offense and forced two turnovers. The Syracuse offense was solid behind A.J. Long, who completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 171-yards. DeVante McFarlane paced an Orange ground attack that racked up 199-yards on the afternoon. McFarlane had 114 of those yards on just 10 carries, including an 86-yarder that tied for third longest in school history. He did not score on the play, but it helped set up another Cole Murphy field goal. It was McFarlane's first career 100-yard performance.
Murphy made all three of his field goal attempts and is now 9-10 on the season.
The win was much needed for a Syracuse squad that came in losing four straight. But the young offensive players continue to play well. Steve Ishmael led Syracuse in receiving with six catches for 72-yards in addition to Long's performance.