SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It started ugly and ended brutal as the Orange fell 24-17 to North Carolina State in the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The Syracuse offense struggled mightily throughout most of the first half, but the defense kept them in it by holding State to three field goals.
At the end of the first half, Syracuse appeared to take momentum with a 96-yard drive that ended in a A.J. Long to Ben Lewis touchdown strike. Syracuse followed that up with a 75-yard drive to open the second half capped by a Steve Ishmael 25-yard scoring grab.
Long finished 22-42 for 307-yards (a Syracuse freshman record), two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I think the kids started getting a rhythm and Coach Lester did a good job making adjustments knowing that we were really struggling inside and I do think there was a spark there," head coach Scott Shafer said. "The field position game was really tough in the first half and they did a good job pinning us inside the 10, I think it was three times, two looked like they were probably inside the five if I remember correctly, so you have to give them a lot of credit. That punter looked like a guy with a great wedge shot.
"They made it tough on us but I think that drive in the second quarter and then coming back in the third quarter, there was some progress there. We ended up minus-two in the turnovers and you just don’t win many games when you’re minus-two in the turnovers, so tough deal on that.”
With a 14-9 lead late in the third quarter, the Orange were deep in enemy territory again, poised to take control with another score. Then Long made a mistake that turned the tide of game. Looking for a slant over the middle, he never saw linebacker Pharoah McKever standing in the way. The ball went right into McKever's hands and he raced 82-yards the other way for a score.
“It was a nice play by them, they dropped an end, similar to what we did against Wake Forest and Robbie [Welsh] made it," Shafer said. "It’s tough, especially for a young quarterback when you drop an end in coverage. Nice call by NC State. AJ didn’t see the guy there and he made a nice play to turn it into a touchdown.”
The Orange had all of the momentum before that play, lost it and were never able to regain it.
“Momentum is a big deal in sports and football and trying to bounce back from it," Shafer said. "It’s one of those things you can’t answer. You keep trying to fight and get that next spark going. Difficult situation, but we had a little bit of momentum there at the end and tried to do something special. We came up a little bit short, but I liked the way we kept fighting.
"These kids will never quit. It’s like that Monty Python show. Remember that show where the guy loses his arm and then his other arm and his legs and he’s still fighting? That’s our kids, but we’re just running out of arms and legs. God love them, I love these kids and dog gone it we came up short.”
The defense gave the ball back to the Orange time and time again, but the offense could never capitalize. The Syracuse defense held NC State to under 200-yards passing, less than four yards per carry and only gave one touchdown, which came in the last three minutes of the game.
Penalties, negative plays and a lack of execution cost the offense on nearly every drive after the pick six. The Wolfpack added a late touchdown to seal the deal after Long fumbled with only four minutes left in a three point game. Syracuse added a field goal with under 20 seconds left. Syracuse grabbed an onsides kick but could not convert on a Hail Mary.
Syracuse out-gained NC State 345-yards to 307. The Orange only ran for 38-yards on 37 carries, averaging only one yard per attempt. Jarrod West led Syracuse in receiving with 161-yards on seven catches. Ishmael added five grabs for 63-yards and the one score.
The outcome ended a 12-game ACC losing streak for NC State and a four game losing streak overall.
Syracuse falls to 3-6 on the season, 1-4 in ACC play. They face Duke in the home finale next week at noon.