It’s been more than two decades since Syracuse began a season 3-0. The Orange’s start of the season hasn’t unfolded like coach Scott Shafer probably predicted, but he’ll be happy his team has handled adversity to start undefeated. Syracuse defeated Central Michigan 30-27 on Saturday.
The Syracuse defense kept bailing out a sputtering offense in the fourth quarter and overtime. Twice in the fourth quarter the defense, with its backs near the end zone, turned Central Michigan over to prevent points. CMU finally broke through for a game-tying score with seconds left, but the Orange defense held Central Michigan to a field goal in overtime. Syracuse’s Jordan Fredericks responded with the game-winning touchdown.
Central Michigan tested Syracuse, but the Orange looked to be taking control of the game when starting quarterback Eric Dungey was the victim of a vicious hit to the head in the second quarter. Dungey rolled right and was tackled around the ankles as he released the ball. As he dropped to the ground, Central Michigan defensive lineman Mitch Stanitzek delivered a late blow with the crown of his helmet. Stanitzek was ejected for targeting, and Dungey did not return.
What the win means for Syracuse: The Orange are 3-0 for the first time since 1991, which means they already equaled if not surpassed the expected season win total from some prognosticators. The problem is whether Syracuse can keep it up, beginning next week with a visit from LSU. The Orange’s offense is in shambles after another injury. Opening-day starter Terrel Hunt is out for the season, so the Orange will be down to their third starter if Dungey cannot play. Junior college transfer Zack Mahoney finished Saturday’s win, relieving Austin Wilson.
What the loss means for Central Michigan: Credit the Chippewas for being a resilient group. The defense stepped up in the second half, and the offense kept coming back despite costly turnovers late in the game. Central Michigan has the look of a program moving in the right direction behind quarterback Cooper Rush, who has some play-making ability.
How the game was won: Mahoney, playing his first meaningful minutes for Syracuse, converted a critical third down in overtime. He found Kendall Moore on third-and-5 from the 20-yard line. An incompletion would have set up a field goal a little too long for comfort in overtime. Two plays later, Fredericks ran in the winning touchdown on an option play with Mahoney.
Unsung hero: The Syracuse offense was stuck in neutral the entire second half, so it was up to punter Riley Dixon to continuously flip field position. Dixon responded with five punts that averaged 50 yards. He had a long of 60 yards. Dixon kept making Central Michigan drive the length of the field. If he was anything less than stellar, Syracuse likely loses in regulation.