SYRACUSE — Scott Shafer’s credo since taking over the Syracuse University football team has been: “Next man up.”
Those words from the second-year SU head coach took on more significance than ever during Friday night’s season opener at the Carrier Dome.
The Orange, playing most of the game without starting quarterback Terrel Hunt due to an ejection, escaped a potential disaster with a dramatic 27-26 double-overtime victory over FCS foe Villanova in front of about 40,000 fans.
“We’re 1-0, that’s all that counts. Was it pretty? No. It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way,” Shafer said.
“That’s what teams do as they grow and mature, they find ways to win ugly,” he added. “I’ve been on the other side of it where we’ve lost pretty, and that’s no good.”
In the second overtime, SU scored on 4th-and-goal from inside the one-yard line on a fake field goal attempt. SU punter Riley Dixon took the snap, hopped up and rolled to his left to find tight end Kendall Moore in the end zone for a 27-20 lead following the extra point.
Villanova struck back when quarterback John Robertson found Gary Underwood for a nine-yard touchdown pass. The Wildcats then went for a 2-point conversion to win the game, but Robertson was stuffed at the line of scrimmage to end the game.
“I felt pure joy,” Dixon said. “It was kind of a shock, I thought about running it. Kendall might have been covered, but I kind of flipped it in there. I think I jumped or something, I might have blacked out. I don’t know. I don’t remember much of it.”
Villanova had a chance to win the game near the end of regulation, but kicker Chris Gough pulled a 25-yard field goal attempt wide right with 15 seconds left.
“I think (emotions) were still pretty up after that,” said Villanova coach Andy Talley, who coached at St. Lawrence University from 1979-83. “We did what we accomplished, which was to keep the game close in the fourth quarter and maybe they’d get a little tight and we can have a shot to pull it out. I was happy to go into the overtime and I knew pretty much it was going to be who made a couple plays here and there.”
Hunt was ejected with three minutes left in the second quarter with SU leading 10-7. At the end of a scramble, he was in the process of being tackled when a second Villanova defender came in late and hit Hunt near the helmet. Hunt hit the ground then swung his hand at the defender, hitting him in the helmet. The official immediately threw a flag, called a personal foul on Hunt and tossed him from the game.
Hunt was not available for comment after the game. Shafer said that there would be no additional punishment for the redshirt junior quarterback.
“He reacted. He’s a competitive, tough kid and I love Terrel Hunt. We’ll bounce back and get going,” Shafer said.
Austin Wilson, a sophomore who was just officially named the backup earlier this week, stepped in and completed 11-of-17 passes for 79 yards. He led SU to a scoring drive to start the second half.
“He responded well,” junior wide receiver Ashton Broyld said of Wilson. “He led us to victory and that’s all we can ask for.”
Prince-Tyson Gulley finished with 99 yards rushing on 11 carries for the Orange. He busted off a 65-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter to give the Orange an early 7-0 lead.
“My line made a great hole for me and all I did was go through my reads and just busted out, that’s all that is,” Tyson Gulley said.
Villanova quarterback Robertson ran for 115 yards. Last season, SU was the only team in the nation that didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher.
The Orange improved to 13-0 all-time against FCS opponents.
It was the first time SU went to overtime since the 2011 season. The team is 8-6 all-time in overtime games.