Steamrolling Wake Forest ran out steam midway through the second half at Syracuse on Saturday, well short of what could have been Dave Clawson’s first road victory as the Deacons’ head coach.
The Orange rocked Wake Forest with two long touchdown passes down the stretch to rally to a 30-17 victory at the Carrier Dome. Both were thrown by Eric Dungey, a freshman from Oswego, Ore., who completed only 4 of 7 passes for 35 yards over the game’s first 43 minutes while the Deacons were mounting a 17-13 lead.
Over the final 17 minutes, Dungey completed 4 of 6 for 186 yards – while carrying seven times for 33 yards – as Syracuse scored the game’s final 17 points.
“Momentum, it flips so quick, especially them being the home team,” said linebacker Brandon Chubb of the Deacons. “...We gave them momentum two or three times when we shouldn’t have, and that hurt us.
“They ran the same plays, and we ran the same plays. They just had momentum. They came out faster and they came out with more of a sense of urgency.”
Clawson said there were five plays that dropped the Deacons to 1-1 going into next week’s game at Army, the two interceptions thrown by John Wolford in the first half, a costly personal foul against receiver Cortez Lewis that derailed a drive in the third quarter, and then Dungey’s two touchdown passes.
Dungey’s first touchdown pass, thrown from the shadow of his end zone, found speedster Brisly Estime in one-on-one coverage with cornerback Devin Gaulden near midfield. Estime pulled in the pass on the way to an 89-yard play – the third-longest pass play in Syracuse history.
Dungey dropped his second touchdown pass over the coverage of Thomas Brown along the sidelines and into the hands of Steve Ishmael, who raced untouched to a 53-yard touchdown and a 27-17 lead with 11:17 remaining in the game.
Syracuse tacked on a 20-yard field goal from Cole Murphy with 2:16 remaining to improve to 1-0 in ACC play and carry a 2-0 record into next week’s game against Central Michigan.
“Those are five plays in a game when you’re battling and you’re physically playing a lot different than you did a year ago,’’ Clawson said. “I think it clearly shows we’re better physically, but those five plays become the whole football game.”
The Deacons, coming off a 3-9 season during which they finished last in major college football in total offense, outgained Syracuse 419 yards to 370, and piled up 23 first downs to the Orange’s 15.
They looked like a completely different team while overcoming Wolford’s two first-half interceptions – one of which was returned by Donnie Simmons 41 yards for a touchdown – on the way to a 17-13 lead. Wolford directed two 75-yard touchdown drives, finding KJ Brent for a 40-yard scoring play and then carrying the final six yards for the second touchdown of his 14-game college career.
And they continued to gash the Syracuse defense in the third quarter, only to have nothing more to show for their efforts. An 11-play drive stalled after Ron Thompson sacked Wolford for a seven-yard loss, and Mike Weaver’s 50-yard field goal attempt sailed right. And then the Deacons put together a 12-play drive that fizzled after Lewis was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Lewis, a redshirt freshman who had five catches for 48 yards, was called for pushing a defender away after the tackle.
“We were controlling the ball and keeping their offense off the field, and that was something we never did last year,” Wolford said. “We got down inside the 50 and we were going to take our shots, and we had that sack. That happened. Obviously you hate personal fouls, but Cortez is a fiery player. But you’ve got to keep those drives going.
“Any loss is not fun. Everyone’s competitive. Everyone wants to win. I just want to win.”
Wolford, for the game, completed 30 of 45 passes for 373 yards and a touchdown. He finished with three interceptions, the third coming in the Syracuse end zone in the final minute, after the Orange had taken control.
He was hit as he was releasing both first-half interceptions, the first picked off by linebacker Parris Bennett and the second snagged by Simmons at the Wake Forest 41 and returned down the sidelines for the Orange’s only touchdown of the first half.
By halftime, Wake Forest had outgained 265 yards to 108 and piled up 13 first downs to the Orange’s six. But by game’s end, the Deacons committed three turnovers to Syracuse’s zero.
“The first (interception) I was going to throw it to Tabari (Hines) on the inside shoulder and I got hit and it sprayed right,” Wolford said. “The other one, I saw the end drop and I was going to put it out wide and got hit.
“You’ve got to limit those. Any time we can win the turnover margin, you’re going to be more successful, and we didn’t do that. Some of those plays, maybe I should just eat it and not try to force it when I’m getting hit. But it’s a split second. It’s hard.
“But that’s how it goes.”