SYRACUSE The Syracuse University football team was one stop away from capping off an exhilarating, improbable come-from-behind victory over Northwestern in its season opener on Saturday.
But the Wildcats drove 75 yards down the field in less than two minutes, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 44 seconds left to earn a wild 42-41 win and break the hearts of the 37,830 fans at the Carrier Dome.
When this football team doesnt fight, theres a problem, fourth-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. And right now, theyll fight. They believe in what were doing.
The Orange trailed 35-13 midway through the third quarter. Fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who set school records in completions, attempts and passing yards Saturday, then led the team on four straight scoring drives.
The last of his four touchdown passes, a 20-yard strike to Christopher Clark, put Syracuse up 41-35 with just under three minutes left in the game.
Nassib started the comeback with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Sales. Nassib then found Jeremiah Kobena for touchdowns of 50 and seven yards.
We just started clicking, and unfortunately, it was a little too late for us to really take over the game, Nassib said.
I thought we were going to put up a lot of points, he added. We have had success in practice, and we were able to translate it to the game. But obviously it wasnt quite enough.
Nassib finished with 44 completions on 65 attempts for 470 yards, shattering the previous school records of 31, 51 and 428, respectively.
He added 30 yards rushing to provide 500 yards of total offense another school record.
We want to make plays and well do whatever we have to do to score touchdowns, Marrone said. If thats throwing the ball 70 or 80 times a game, well throw the ball 70 or 80 times a game. If its run the ball 70 or 80 times a game, well do that.
Northwesterns backup quarterback, Trevor Siemian, engineered the final drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone to Demetrius Fields. The play was reviewed and upheld.
Siemian replaced starter Kain Colter, who was injured on the Wildcats previous possession.
Trevor went out there and did a great job, said Colter, who threw for 135 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 59 yards and a score rushing. Im so proud of him. We came on the same year, its great to see him do big things.
Syracuse fell behind due to poor punt coverage and a pair of peculiar turnovers.
Mark Venric got the Wildcats on the board with an 82-yard punt return near the end of the first quarter. He later returned a punt 52 yards to set Northwestern up at the Syracuse 28-yard line. The Wildcats scored four plays later to take a 21-13 lead.
Sales, after catching a pass from Nassib, had the ball tipped out of his hands directly to Northwestern defender Chi Chi Ariguzo, who ran the ball 49 yards up to the Syracuse 21-yard line.
Colter tossed a touchdown pass to Venric on the next play, putting the Wildcats up 14-13.
On Syracuses opening drive of the third quarter, Nassib threw an incomplete pass to running back Jerome Smith behind the line of scrimmage.
Orange players stood around as if the play was dead, but Ariguzo was there to scoop up the ball and run 33 yards the other way to put Northwestern up 28-13.
Thats something that we got to do a better job on, thats a free touchdown, Marrone said.
I thought Chi Chi was very opportunistic. Right place, right time, said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 7-0 in season openers.
Syracuse, which has the toughest nonconference schedule in the nation according to the Sporting News annual preseason rankings, will try to rebound against No. 1 Southern California in the New York College Classic at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.