Home / Sports / It was a special Friday night at Syracuse as the Orange sliced up No. 2, defending national football champion, undefeated Clemson, 24-21

It was a special Friday night at Syracuse as the Orange sliced up No. 2, defending national football champion, undefeated Clemson, 24-21

Playing for its pride and history, the Cuse brought down one of the big boys behind quarterback Eric Dungey

Commentary by Arnie Leshin

COMMENTARY

By ARNIE LESHIN, Santa Fe Today

I can’t remember the last time they were rocking and rolling at the Carrier Dome. Not for football.

At first, the crowd in the range of 25,000 had come to see its unranked, 3-3 Orange get peeled by the second-ranked, No. 2, national champion Clemson.

This was not the Syracuse program of yesteryear when Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, Joe Morris, Jim Nance, Donovan McNabb, Art Monk, John Mackey, Marvin Harrison, were in the spotlight, although most of them did not even play in the Carrier Dome that opened in 1980.

No, it was Archibald Stadium that was the home of first the Piety Indians, the Orangemen, that opened in 1905. In recent years, the Orange has stood alone, the ‘men’ was removed.

So now in the 129th year of football at the upstate New York school, the fans had come to cheer, but had no thoughts of taming the undefeated Tigers.

They settled in their seats when it quickly became 7-7, then Syracuse, engineered by junior quarterback Eric Dungey, went in front 14-7, and raced off the field at halftime with a 17-14 lead and a standing ovation from the crowd.

Not the Clemson turnout, it was perhaps concerned, worried that it was this close even though skilled starting quarterback Kelly Bryant was limping around with a sprained right ankle suffered in the previous week’s win over Wake Forest.

It was obvious he wasn’t the same. Stellar at running the option, he was minus yards rushing when late in the half tumbled to the turf after a hard tackle, and rose awhile later to be helped off and into the locker room with a concussion. He didn’t return to the field, only to the sidelines in the third quarter to watch his replacement, freshman Zerrick Cooper.

Meanwhile, here were the Orange in front, and how long would it last? None of the Cuse faithful were expecting a victory tonight, perhaps a moral victory after tight road losses at LSU and North Carolina State. Last year, they celebrated an upset over No. 17 Virginia Tech, but this was Friday the 13th and the brutal Tigers were in town.

But as the contest continued and it was still close, the throng got louder, more animated, rooting its 23.5 (those were the odds) underdogs on. And the Orange were playing with immense confidence, running the ball, catching pin-point passes from the versatile Dungey, and the defense was fierce, attacking, sacking, keeping the feared Clemson running game in check and not allowing Cooper to generate big plays.

And so it went, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney realizing he was in a real battle, and Syracuse head coach Dino Baber seriously in charge and keeping his team from letting up. He could tell this wasn’t a fluke, that his Orange was actually dominating on defense, on the ground, through the air.

Could it last? Well, the crowd was hoping so when the fourth quarter began in a 21-21 tie (and ended in a 24-21 triumph).

But there was no letdown, only patience, only handling the pressure, and then a 34-yard field goal with eight minutes showing brought the lead the home team would never surrender. Clemson was hit with penalties and made unexpected mistakes, as in a fourth down fake punt that didn’t work.

Dungey took over. For six minutes, he ran the show, a few running plays, several for key first downs that included his 3rd down 8-yard scramble that fell short by less than a yard. Then came the field goal.

Then the Tigers took over and couldn’t get anything going. Cooper did run a few option plays and tossed a few short throws, and lost the ball on down when the fake punt was batted down by a Syracuse defender. Now Clemson had no time outs, and Dungey just took four knees before the stands emptied like never before.

Baber dropped his headset and rushed the field with his joyous players, It looked like New Years Eve in the Dome. Somewhere in this land of ours, Brown, Little, Csonka, Morris, Nance, Mackey, Monk, Harrison, McNabb might have been watching on TV. Brown is usually in attendance, but the great one has aged and has slowed down.

Davis, the only Orange player to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy, had passed away in 1963, three years after leading the team to its only national championship with a 23-14 win over Texas at the Cotton Bowl before 75, 504, still the largest crowd to see the Cuse in a bowl game, and Davis was the MVP and scored twice.

Not to forget Floyd Ben Schwartzwalder, who was head coach for a record 25 years and compiled a 153-91 record. He was responsible for noticing Brown playing lacrosse, and presto, he landed perhaps the best to ever play the game, although the running back was also elite in lacrosse.

But it was Morris who is still the school’s all-time rushing leader. As a freshmen playing the final game at Archibald Stadium in 1978, he scored four times and accumulated 300 yards in an upset over second-ranked Navy and its All-America quarterback Roger Staubach.

After a season of having the team play at various sites while the Dome was being built, Morris also led the way in the inaugural game with 230 yards and a pair of TDs before some 50,000 in a win over Miami of Ohio.

McNabb, the quarterback who did well in the NFL with Philadelphia, played all his home games in the Dome and was probably the last individual to stir up the crowd. Until now. They’ve had several good quarterbacks through the years at the Dome, but Dungey, who hails from Oregon, was special on this night.

He finished with 339 yards of offense and threw for three touchdowns. He arrived as a freshman with well-known talent and choose to play on the East Coast in snowy Syracuse. But in his first season, he had two splendid games and then was hit by several injuries that kept him sidelined most of the campaign. Now he has this season and next to entertain the Orange faithful.

In all, the Cuse was good for 461 total yards of offense, 172 more than the Tigers. It showed up and turned in a remarkable performance over the stunned visitors.

After the final whistle, Swinney tried to shake off the wild and wooly crowd to reach Baber and hung him with nothing but congratulations and compliments.

Then, after addressing his team and informing them the season is far from over, he was escorted to the Syracuse clubhouse and gave credit where credit was due. He even posed for photos with some of the players. He told them of how he warned his team of the Syracuse football history.

“Said senior linebacker Zaire Franklin: “This was one of the classiest things I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen anything like it. A real class guy.”

Before the tilt, the Syracuse band warmed up the fans by playing New York, New York in front of the Hendricks Chapel. That was the start of big things and its team added the even bigger finish.

Next stop Florida and long-time rival, No. 11 Miami. At 4-3 and 2-1 in the ACC, happy days returned Friday night for Syracuse. For me, it was a special time watching my Orange pull this one off. Even forced me to miss most of the Yankees game in Houston.

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