It was WVU's first home loss since a Nov. 2008 overtime defeat at the hands of then-No. 20 Cincinnati and the first time SU claimed the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy since 2001.
"Obviously, we are very excited," said Orange head coach Doug Marrone, whose players could be heard chanting "Trophy! Trophy!" in their locker room as they awaited their first ever chance to lay hands on the award for the winner of what was once seen as a major rivalry in eastern football.
"This is a difficult place to come in and win."
It certainly had been for the 'Cuse, who won at Milan Puskar Stadium for the first time since a 31-27 decision in 2000 that came on the day long-time WVU coach Don Nehlen announced his retirement.
With the win, Syracuse took the first step towards making the series, which it now leads 31-27, a true rivalry once more. The Orange did so by grinding its opposition's offense to a near-halt.
The Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1) had five possessions in the second half in which they had a chance to take the lead. But the team's offense simply couldn't sustain a drive. Its last shot was its best, taking 15 plays to go a mere 34 yards before turning the ball over on downs with under a minute to play.
That was actually the third-longest West Virginia possession of the day, and its longest in the last three quarters.
That was the result of a series of solid plays from the SU defense, which sacked WVU quarterback Geno Smith five times and intercepted him on three other occasions. Smith was harassed all afternoon by an Orange defense that simply outperformed the Mountaineer offense -- particularly at the line of scrimmage.
"We had a case today where we had a young man that's a big feature of our offense who just had a rough day at the ranch," Stewart said of Smith. "He had a tough outing."
"We had a hard time protecting him today."
When Syracuse wasn't generating tremendous pressure defensively on its own, its opposition was finding ways to make life more difficult with critical penalties.
Never was that more illustrated than towards the end of the hosts' final drive. After Smith avoided pressure just enough to avoid a sack and run for 11 yards on a fourth-and-4 play, left tackle Don Barclay committed a crucial holding penalty that backed up the offense into second-and-20.
Somehow, with the game on the line, West Virginia got off the deck once more. Smith found wide receiver J.D. Woods for 17 yards on the ensuing third-and-16, moving the sticks and putting the offense at the Syracuse 20-yard line, keeping hope of a last-minute win alive.
But that would be the last time the offense would gain yardage.
Running back Noel Devine went for no gain on first down before Smith was sacked for a loss of 12 on second-and-10. An incomplete pass on third-and-22 and another sack of Smith on the ensuing fourth down ended the threat, allowing the Orange players to run out on the field in celebration.
"Total team defeat," Stewart said. "From me, the staff, to players, to anyone involved -- total team defeat."
With the win, Syracuse (5-2, 2-1) continued its surge under second-year coach Marrone. The former powerhouse program, which had fallen on hard times in the past decade, has five wins overall and two Big East Conference victories for the first time since 2004.
But this was another bitter pill to swallow for his Mountaineer counterpart, Stewart, whose three West Virginia teams have suffered a second loss by their third, eighth and seventh games of the season, respectively.
"Today was a tough football game ... we don't have a lot of injuries in there right now, but we do have a lot of heavy hearts," Stewart said.
It didn't look like the game would end up as a defensive struggle early. The first quarter, particularly, was full of offensive fireworks on both sides.
|This game recap presented by The Book Exchange|
The Mountaineers answered back quickly, taking advantage of an 11-yard pass from Smith to Tavon Austin on a third-and-10 play to keep their ensuing possession alive. Six plays later, the two hooked up again, this time for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Tyler Bitancurt's point-after made it 7-3, and order appeared to have been restored.
The visitors had other ideas. Syracuse running back Delone Carter burst through the middle of the WVU defense for 11 yards on a third-and-5 near midfield, and two plays later, quarterback Ryan Nassib executed a play-action fake to perfection, leaving receiver Van Chew wide open for a 29-yard touchdown pass that made it 10-7.
West Virginia's offense, undeterred, answered back again. Noel Devine slipped a sequence of tackles and ran around left end for a 32-yard gain on the first play of the team's ensuing possession.
It didn't seem to be enough, as a sack of Smith left the Mountaineers facing a third-and-15 from the Orange's 18-yard line. But WVU's sophomore quarterback found J.D. Woods for 17 yards and a first down, and fullback Ryan Clarke came in and rushed up the middle for a touchdown on the ensuing snap to make it 14-10.
Syracuse's Max Suter fumbled while returning the ensuing kickoff, and Mountaineer freshman Mike Dorsey recovered to put the team's offense in business again. But on first-and-goal from the Orange's 8-yard line, Smith, who came into Saturday's contest having thrown only two interceptions all season, was picked for the second time of the game.
Syracuse started the second period off with a bang, as Carter burst through a tackle attempt from West Virginia safety Robert Sands and rumbled for 46 yards to the Mountaineers' 26. But the hit Sands delivered took a toll, as Carter sustained a bruised hip on the play and did not return.
His backup, Antwon Bailey, performed admirably though. Bailey ran for 15 yards on the next play from scrimmage, but SU's drive stalled at the WVU 2-yard line. Another Krautman field goal, this time from 19 yards out, made it 14-13.
The defenses finally seemed to grasp control of things, as the next three possessions ended in punts. On the first play of a Syracuse possession, Mountaineer cornerback Keith Tandy picked off Nassib and returned the ball deep into Orange territory, but the play was overturned on a pass interference penalty called against linebacker J.T. Thomas.
SU took advantage of the second chance, driving to the West Virginia 16-yard line before stalling again. Krautman was true from 33 yards away, and the Orange took a 16-14 lead.
Smith's tough day continued, as Hogue picked the sophomore off yet again on WVU's ensuing possession. He returned it 49 yards to the hosts' 12-yard line. The Mountaineers' defense managed to stand tall once more, and Krautman's 22-yard field goal, his fourth of the day, came with less than a minute to go before halftime. It would be the last score of the game.
The ‘Cuse gashed the nation's No. 4 rushing defense, particularly early. West Virginia, which had been surrendering an average of only 83 yards per game coming into Saturday's contest, yielded a full 100 yards more than that to the Orange.
SU averaged just shy of seven yards per carry in the first half against a defense that had allowed only 2.6 yards per attempt in its first six outings this season.
Between Bailey (19 carries, 94 yards) and Carter (nine attempts, 75 yards), the visitors rarely needed to put the ball in the air. Nassib completed only five of his 15 passes for 63 yards -- 29 of which came on his touchdown throw to Chew.
Devine gained 122 yards on his 24 carries, and Smith was 20-of-37 passing for 178 yards and a touchdown to go with the three picks.
With WVU's defeat, only Pittsburgh remains unbeaten in Big East play at 2-0 in the league.