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College football: Panthers escape with 17-16 win over Orange

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SYRACUSE — A series of missed opportunities cost the Syracuse University football team a victory on Saturday.

And it may have cost the Orange a chance to play in a bowl game. Pittsburgh held off SU, 17-16, to clinch bowl eligibility for the seventh straight season in front of 35,317 at the Carrier Dome.

The Orange (5-6 overall, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) will need to beat Boston College in Saturday’s regular-season finale at the Dome to reach a bowl for the third time in four years.

“We came up six inches short. We came up a quarter of a second or a half second short, but that’s life, man,” SU coach Scott Shafer said. “If we sit here and sulk about it then we’re being soft, and we’re not going to be soft around here. Frustrated? Hell yeah. I want to put my hand through a wall right now. But that’s the way life goes.”

SU had three possessions in the fourth quarter, down 17-16, but failed to score each time.

On its final drive, SU lined up for a 53-yard field goal on fourth-and-9 with a minute left.

Holder Charley Loeb took the snap, stood up and threw the ball to a wide-open Kendall Moore on the sideline. But the whistle blew before Loeb released the ball, signaling a timeout called by Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst, whose team improved to 6-5, 3-4.

SU’s offense then went back on the field and quarterback Terrel Hunt threw an incomplete pass to end the comeback attempt.

“We’re still hungry,” Hunt said. “Right now, we’re a little bruised. But go in next week and play with your hearts, play with your hearts and leave it all on the field.”

SU senior center and captain Macky MacPherson added: “I don’t think you’re going to see a team work harder than us this week.”

With 12 minutes left in the fourth, SU’s Luke Arciniega came up with an interception after the ball tipped off a Pittsburgh wide receiver and SU safety Durell Eskridge. That set the Orange up at its own 49-yard line.

“We owe this season to them,” MacPherson said of the defense. “They’re playing their butts off and we’re not scoring enough points ... they play so hard. They force turnovers and they stop (the other team) and we don’t do enough for them. So (we) as an offense have to step our game up.”

After the interception, Hunt threw a 43-yard bomb to Quinta Funderburk in the back corner of the end zone. The ball went through Funderburk’s hands, but Hunt took the blame for the missed scoring chance afterward.

The drive resulted in a missed field goal of 42 yards by kicker Ryan Norton with less than nine minutes left.

“I was late on (the throw),” Hunt said. “If I had thrown it a little earlier, that would have been a touchdown.”

The Orange started the game off quickly with a four-play, 67-yard drive that ended with a Jerome Smith 36-yard touchdown run to give the Orange a 6-0 lead. But Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald blocked the extra point. The All-American candidate finished with nine tackles and 3 tackles for loss.

“We watched film on it all week,” Donald said. “I just got under his pads, and pushed him back and just got my hands up to get a piece of it.”

SU also missed a chance to get in the end zone late in the first half.

Hunt found Eskridge, moonlighting as a wide receiver due to several SU injuries, in the back of the end zone for what looked to be a touchdown that would give the Orange a 12-10 lead going into halftime. But the play was ruled an incomplete pass because, according to the official, Eskridge bobbled the ball and never had possession.

“I feel like I made the catch,” said Eskridge, who led the SU defense with 12 tackles. “I thought I brought it in and kept my feet in. The officials made the call, we got to live with it and get ready for the next down.”

Adding injury to insult, SU lost starting left tackle Sean Hickey and senior middle linebacker Marquis Spruill to undisclosed injuries. The status of each player is uncertain for Saturday.

“We’d like to have everybody healthy and all that, but hell man, that’s what it is so let’s go after it as best we can,” Shafer said. “Man up. Man up and see what the heck we can do.”

Hunt completed 18-of-28 passes for 159 yards and threw his first touchdown pass in two months, since last connecting against Tulane on Sept. 21.

Alvin Cornelius III caught his first career touchdown and finished with 53 yards on a pair of receptions.

Smith led the SU rushing attack with 93 yards on 17 carries.


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