Dome Sweet Dome

The Big East clash between Syracuse and West Virginia started strong for the home team, as the Orangemen took a close decision in the first battle of the afternoon, the contest of who could come up with the worst uniform combination.

Taking the field first, the Mountaineers seemed to have a great opportunity to take the crown, coming out with a white on blue combination that had onlookers wondering if the Blue and Gold had left their game uniforms in Morgantown and instead packed a mismatched set of practice threads.

When the Orangemen ran onto the turf, however, the WVU fashion statement quickly took a backseat to the look of the Orange (extremely orange). The home team came out with a look usually reserved for prison inmates, orange from head to toe. The end zone pylon look gave the ‘Cuse the title, the first in a series of early victories.

On the football field, the Mountaineers found the first major break of the game. On Syracuse's opening series, the Orange put the ball on the turf for the first time. On a third down and three, WVU linebacker Scott Gyorko popped Syracuse tailback Walter Reyes to jar the ball loose, and as has been the case all season long, Lance Frazier was there to make the play. Frazier fell on the loose pigskin at the Syracuse 28 yard line, and the Mountaineer offense was in business. The bone jarring tackle left Reyes on the turf with a knee injury, and he would not return for the remainder of the opening half. In what would prove to become a reoccurring theme in the opening quarter, however, the Blue and Gold could not take advantage of the golden opportunity and left the field with no points after a missed Brad Cooper field goal attempt from 42 yards out.

It would not take long for the Orangemen to take advantage of the lack of production from Rasheed Marshall and the WVU offense. After taking over on their own 25 after Cooper's attempt sailed wide right, Syracuse quarterback R.J. Anderson went to the air. The senior signal caller, who wears the number five that has found the backs of so many ‘Cuse signal-callers over the years, hoisted a high arcing spiral toward the SU sideline where senior receiver Johnnie Morant had a step on West Virginia defensive back Lance Frazier. The ball hung in the air slightly too long, and both Frazier and fellow cornerback Pacman Jones looked to have a shot at a breakup. Frazier's arms were a few inches short as the ball found its way past his fingertips and into the waiting arms of the Orangemen wideout. Jones, who made a diving attempt at an interception instead of going for the stop fell to the turf, and nothing but green Astroturf lay ahead of the Syracuse receiver. The senior trotted untouched into the end zone, and Paul Pasqualoni's squad took an early 7-0 advantage. West Virginia fans and players alike were in a state of shock, but they were not going to sit around and feel sorry for themselves.

After failing to convert a first down on the ensuing drive, the Mountaineers held the Orange to a three and out of their own. Brendan Washington's punt sailed into the end zone, and the Mountaineers took over on their own 20-yard line. From that point, West Virginia would put together its longest drive of the opening 15 minutes.

Rich Rodriguez's offense marched the ball 72 yards on eleven plays on the strength of Quincy Wilson's legs and Rasheed Marshall's arm. The big blow came on a 42-yard rocket to Chris Henry. The sophomore receiver leaped over the outstretched arms of two Syracuse defensive backs to make the highlight grab and pick up an important first down. Doak Walker semifinalist Quincy Wilson stuck next with a 17 yard burst to put the ball inside the 10 at the Syracuse eight. Again, the Blue and Gold failed to take full advantage of the exceptional field position, and West Virginia had to settle for a 25-yard field goal attempt. This time, Cooper's boot found the middle of the uprights, and the Mountaineers cut into the Syracuse lead at 7-3.

The final points of the first period would belong to the Mountaineers as well. After holding Anderson and the Syracuse offense to a three and out, Pacman Jones returned the ‘Cuse punt 37 yards to give the Blue and Gold excellent field position once again. West Virginia took over at the SU 22, and this time it would make the most of the opportunity. A Travis Garvin reverse found pay dirt from eight yards out, and the score was in WVU's favor for the first time at 10-7. That score would hold until the two teams switched ends of the field to begin the second period of play.

The Mountaineers' second quarter lead was short lived, as Syracuse struck on a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown. Freshman receiver Marcus Clayton made the play showing some speed and picking up a few big blocks on his way to the score. The fast paced scamper put the Orange on top once again, with a 14-10 lead.

The game took on a more of a basketball feel, as the two squads ran up and down the field and exchanged score after score. West Virginia was next in line, and a four-yard touchdown strike from Rasheed Marshall to Tory Johnson gave it its second touchdown of the afternoon for a 17-14 lead.

The men in orange ended the first half scoring with a 25-yard boot with just 11 seconds remaining to even the score at 17-17 just before the half. It appeared as though that would be the halftime score, but an unorthodox kickoff put the score in jeopardy. Syracuse place kicker Brendan Carney skied the ball toward the Mountaineer end zone where Pacman Jones was waiting. The sophomore corner hesitated in making the decision on whether or not to field the incoming pigskin. The ball bounced on the bright green turf and headed toward the end zone. Jones ran full speed after the loose ball but could never gain full control before his momentum carried him into the West Virginia end zone where the Syracuse defense met him with authority. The SU players and coaches signaled for a safety, but the officiating crew made the right call and signaled for a touchback. Because Jones' momentum had carried him into the end zone, and he never controled the ball out of the end zone, he had the right to a touchback and that was where the ball was placed. The Blue and Gold, leery of another breakdown, ran out the clock and headed to the locker room knotted at 17.

Syracuse held an advantage in the halftime numbers by out passing (137-86) and out rushing (95-92) the visitors from the Mountain State. The Orangemen turned the ball over on two different occasions, though, and were penalized five times for 45 yards in the opening half. The Blue and Gold took advantage of at least some of those errors and kept the game close. The Mountaineers knew they had their New York rivals right where they wanted them. The second half has belonged to Rodriguez's squad for much of the year, and this contest would prove to be no different.

The white and blue clad Mountaineers started the second half scoring with an eight-play 55-yard drive that culminated in a 25-yard Cooper field goal. Chris Henry again made a key catch for 21 yards and backup tailback Jason Colson, who was filling in for a banged up Quincy Wilson, added 27 yards on the ground to lead to the score. Cooper, who transfered to the WVU from Middle Tennessee State, hit on his second score of the day to give West Virginia a 20-17 lead, and they would not look back.

Syracuse moved the ball deep into Mountaineer territory and had the ball down to the WVU 11 yard line before the whistle blew to bring quarter number three to an end. The WVU defense sprinted the length of the field, ready for one final quarter, while the Syracuse squad slowly sauntered to the other end. The between quarters display will never be seen in a box score, but it surely sent a message of things to come for these two squads.

The opening play of the final quarter would also be a sign of things to come. Facing a fourth down and three from the WVU 11, Colin Barber trotted onto the Carrier Dome turf to attempt to even the tilt with a 29-yard kick. The usually sure-footed junior pulled the chip shot wide left and the Mountaineers held onto a slim three point lead.

Chris Henry and the West Virginia offense were not about to get conservative now. The Blue and Gold again went to their aerial assault against the Syracuse defense that has shown vulnerability against the pass all season long. Marshall and Henry found the big play hookup twice in the drive, connecting on both a 42 and a 24-yard bomb. The latter found the end zone, and the West Virginia lead was extended to ten. It certainly appeared as though West Virginia was ready for another breakaway like last week's monster quarter against Pitt, but Syracuse would not give up the W without a fight.

The Orangemen had little luck with putting together long drives, but big plays seemed to leave the prison look-alikes within striking distance throughout the game. The final gasp for SU came on a 67-yard screen to Walter Reyes, who had found his way back onto the field for the second half. The explosive runner broke free at the line of scrimmage and outran nearly the entire WVU secondary on his way to six. The score brought an otherwise hushed Carrier Dome crowd back into the game and put belief back on the ‘Cuse sideline. A missed extra point deflated the enthusiasm, at least temporarily, but the Orangemen were not out of it yet.

Two plays later, the air oozing from the Syracuse balloon could be heard from New York to West Virginia. Henry again proved that he is a force that must be respected with a 67-yard catch and run for his second score of the contest. A perfectly thrown spiral from quarterback Rasheed Marshall dropped into Henry's outstretched arms like a gift from above, and the Louisiana native shot toward the Mountaineer end zone. The back breaking score ended in the corner of the end zone in front of a large contingent of Blue and Gold faithful who rose to its feet to salute the Big East's top squad.

Syracuse would drive into Mountaineer territory one final time, but the final effort was too little too late and West Virginia earned the right to take the Schwartzwalder trophy back to Morgantown. The Carrier Dome staff quickly began to transform the arena for basketball, but all thoughts in the Mountain State are on the oddly shaped pigskin. The win moves the once 1-4 Mountaineers to 7-4 and further solidifies their spot at the head of the Big East table.

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