12:00 PM ET, September 18, 2004
Carrier Dome, SYRACUSE, NY
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - At least Damien Rhodes won't have to worry about how he looks at the next practice.
Rhodes caught a 68-yard scoring pass from Perry Patterson early in the fourth quarter Saturday and Walter Reyes ran for 117 yards and a touchdown to lead Syracuse to a 19-7 victory over Cincinnati in the Orange's home opener.
Patterson's first career touchdown pass couldn't have come at a better time for Syracuse (2-1), which had sputtered on offense in a 51-0 loss at Purdue and a 37-17 win at Buffalo.
"It's good to be out there when a big play happens," said Rhodes, who also had a career-high 52-yard run in the first quarter and scored the only offensive touchdown last week against the Bulls on a 46-yard run.
"I just want to go out there and make a play with or without the ball," said Rhodes, who has bulked up to 217 pounds this season. "Being out there two weeks in a row and making a big play for our offense feels good. If we had lost, I might have come back Monday at 250."
The Bearcats (1-2), who play in Conference USA but will become a member of the Big East Conference next season, were looking to make a statement. Instead, they were tongue-tied after being victimized by a Syracuse defense that intercepted four passes, forced two fumbles and blocked a punt.
Cincinnati's lone score came in the fourth quarter on a fourth-down play.
"It's a little bit disappointing not to get a shutout," said Anthony Smith, who blocked his third punt in two games and the fifth kick of his career to tie David Tyree for the school record. "We know we can play, and that's all that matters."
Even Patterson was impressed.
"They had everything locked down," said Patterson, who played most of the game after relieving freshman starter Joe Fields in the first quarter and was 10-for-16 for 156 yards and two interceptions. "I didn't think our secondary was that good."
The Orange scored all the points they would need in the closing minutes of the second quarter. After Cincinnati was forced to punt for the fifth straight time, Landel Bembo was flattened by Antoine Horton before he could field the kick, and the penalty gave Syracuse the ball at its own 41.
Reyes, who had only 92 yards rushing in the first two games, gained 28 yards on two runs to move the ball into Bearcat territory. Andre Fontenette then caught a 17-yard pass down the right sideline and Reyes scored from the 6 on the next play to give Syracuse a 7-0 lead with 5:28 remaining.
Collin Barber made it 10-0 with a 37-yard field goal with 68 seconds left in the half.
After a scoreless third, the Bearcats finally broke through early in the fourth on a 45-yard drive that was set up by Doug Monaghan's second interception of the game and a costly roughing-the-quarterback penalty against Syracuse defensive tackle Kader Drame.
Still, it wasn't easy against the fired-up Orange defense, which held senior quarterback Gino Guidugli in check and never allowed the Bearcats to mount a sustained scoring drive.
"We have a swagger on defense now," middle linebacker Jerry Mackey said. "We're getting better and better every week."
Cincinnati, which managed just 293 yards on offense, needed six plays to score from the 14, including a fake field goal. Backup quarterback Earnest Jackson gained 3 yards on a fourth-and-1 fake from the 10-yard line, and when the Bearcats faced another fourth down near the goal line, they called a timeout before Guidugli rolled left and hit tight end Brent Celek with a 2-yard TD pass with 13:41 left to make it 10-7.
"We played as bad as possible and were still in the game at the end," said Guidugli. He was 14-for-23 for 155 yards and threw three interceptions.
"I'm disappointed because I thought we had a chance to win," first-year coach Mark Dantonio said. "Too many explosive plays for them and not enough for us."
And it was Rhodes who provided the most explosive one of the game. Rhodes, who also had 82 yards rushing on 11 carries, quashed any hope of a Cincinnati comeback right after the ensuing kickoff. He caught a pass out of the backfield near midfield and raced untouched down the left side into the end zone to make it 17-7 with 12:43 left.
Despite the impressive win, only 32,893 were in attendance in the 49,000-seat Carrier Dome, the smallest home crowd since 27,466 show up for a loss to Virginia Tech in 1986.
Still, they were loud when it counted most.
"I thought the crowd was great," said Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who has been the main target of fan disapproval coming off two lackluster seasons. "The fans really helped us, especially early on. It was a big factor."
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||4-13||4-12|
|4th Down Conversions||2-2||0-0|
|TD||5:28||WALTER REYES 6 YD RUN (COLLIN BARBER KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 59 yards.
|FG||1:08||COLLIN BARBER 37 YD FG|
Drive info: 4 plays, 5 yards.
|TD||13:41||BRENT CELEK 2 YD PASS FROM GINO GUIDUGLI (KEVIN LOVELL KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 45 yards.
|TD||12:43||DAMIEN RHODES 68 YD PASS FROM PERRY PATTERSON (COLLIN BARBER KICK)|
Drive info: 2 plays, 70 yards.