The Cardinals came into the game with a 5-2 record, in the hunt for the Big East title as well as a bowl game. Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson publicly pipe-dreamed before the game, thinking the Orange could still earn a bowl-game bid, which would mean winning the rest of their games to be eligible. In reality, they still have the sobering opportunity of debilitating other teams’ championship chances. Louisville’s loss to Syracuse—whose only other win this season came against Northeastern, a Division I-AA team—puts a significant damper on any of their postseason ambitions.
“It was good to get a Big East win here at home. It’s been awhile since we’ve won one here,” said Robinson after the game. “As a team, it was not a surprise because we knew we were getting better. That’s not to take anything away from Louisville because they’re a good football team, but our players played very well tonight.”
Happy trance: Syracuse head football coach Greg Robinson suffered zombie-like symptoms as the shock that he was actually going to win a Big East game this season began to sink in. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
By halftime, the Orange led 14-7—their first lead in a game since they were up 3-0 against West Virginia on Oct. 11. They quickly extended it to 21-7 five minutes into the third quarter with a 39-yard touchdown run by Antwon Bailey, which is when the real drama unfolded. Cardinals quarterback Hunter Cantwell has one the strongest arms in college football, which he could parlay into a successful National Football League career if he ever tunes it in and develops sharpshooter accuracy. But luckily for the Orange, he’s still accurately volatile.
With a minute left in the third quarter, Cantwell hooked up with Joe Tronzo for a 5-yard touchdown pass, making it a one-score game. After an SU punt on their next possession with a chance to tie the game, Cantwell threw a pass that landed in the hands of wide-open wide receiver Troy Pascley on the Syracuse 10-yard line that would have been a sure touchdown, but he dropped it.
That play was a reversal of fortune for the Orange, as they’ve had many a similar folly in previous games. The Cardinals were then forced to punt, and the Orange scored on the next drive to take a 28-14 lead. Of course, the Cardinals answered as Pascley redeemed himself and caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Cantwell with 3:55 left in the game to close the gap to 28-21. After an SU punt on their next possession, Louisville had one more chance to tie with just over two minutes remaining.
But with 27 seconds on the clock and the goal line in sight, Orange safety and Christian Brothers Academy graduate Bruce Williams intercepted the off-target Cantwell and sealed the deal. And as soon as Williams made his way to the sideline for a hero’s welcome, he instead appeared to receive a frantic verbal accosting by Robinson.
“I wanted to know if he caught it,” said Robinson when asked what he was yakking to Williams about. “He said there was no question that he caught that ball. I said I wanted to know for sure in case I needed to make an adjustment with the defense. He said ‘Coach, don’t worry, I got it.’” Apparently the coach had trouble believing what he was seeing as well.
As soon as time expired Robinson ran on the field flailing his arms while yelling and celebrating like he was losing his virginity, winning the lottery and finding a box of pink-frosted jelly doughnuts all at once. “I don’t know about relief because it’s just beginning,” he said. “I gave my wife a hug because she’s out there in the real world more than I am and I just appreciate her hanging in there with me and fighting through all this stuff. That’s part of the deal and we understand that.”
And he had a resounding glow to his voice at the podium in the media room and a look of portly optimism that hasn’t been around in a long time. “I’m obviously excited about it,” said Robinson. “For this team, there are better days ahead.”
As paradoxical as it sounds, those days might come if the team loses the majority of its remaining four games. If Syracuse goes 3-1 to close out, they’d finish with a record of 5-7, which just might be enough for SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross to believe enough progress has been made to give Robinson another shot next season.
Strange sounds: Curtis Brinkley (above) and the rest of the Syracuse Orange football team
couldn’t believe their ears as they finally turned the season-long jeers into cheers by whooping Louisville 28-21.