On Dec. 29, the Syracuse University football team crushed the West Virginia Mountaineers 38-14 in the third New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Played in snow, rain, sleet and then snow again, the game was memorable in many ways:
• It turned out to be Doug Marrone’s final game as SU’s coach. This past Monday, Jan. 7, the Buffalo Bills announced they had hired Marrone as their coach. Marrone spent four years with the Orange, resurrecting a program that had been reduced to rubble by previous coach Greg Robinson.
• The victory capped SU’s 8-5 season—the team’s second winning season in three years after eight consecutive non-winning campaigns from 2002 to 2009—and it gave the Orange back-to-back bowl wins for the first time since 1999 and 2001 (SU defeated Kansas State 36-34 in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl in 2010). SU is now 14-9-1 in bowl games, and 7-1 at Yankee Stadium (old and new).
• It was SU’s last football game as a member of the Big East Conference. That it came over former Big East rival West Virginia, now a member of the Big 12 Conference, made the win even sweeter. It was the Orange’s third consecutive win over WVU, and perhaps now the Mountaineers will stop their yapping about how great they are.
• SU running back Prince-Tyson Gulley was named the game’s most valuable player after compiling 264 yards from scrimmage, including a game-high 208 rushing yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). He finished eight yards shy of SU legend Floyd Little’s bowl record of 216 yards against Tennessee in the 1966 Gator Bowl.
And how’s this for symmetry: Gulley is from Akron, Ohio, the same hometown as former SU running back Delone Carter, who was the MVP of the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl.
• While Gulley and running back Jerome Smith (157 yards on 30 carries) became the first pair of Orange rushers to top 100 yards in the same game since Curtis Brinkley and Doug Hogue against Northwestern in 2008, the Orange defense held West Virginia’s offense to 285 yards and its lowest point total of the season. WVU, which was 0-for-11 on third downs, had been averaging 518.5 yards and 41.6 points per game.
Syracuse New Times reporter Matt Michael attended the Pinstripe Bowl and compiled this diary of SU’s historic win in Marrone’s swan song:
11:20 a.m.: Arrive at Yankee Stadium and park in the Ruppert Plaza Garage, named after Jacob Ruppert, the New York Yankees owner who built the original Yankee Stadium and purchased Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox in 1919. Fun fact: Ruppert will be inducted—posthumously, of course—into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July in Cooperstown.
11:33: Pick up media credential and receive a media gift bag with a Pinstripe Bowl T-shirt and Pinstripe Bowl winter hat. As it will turn out, the hat is the best media gift I will ever receive.
12:08 p.m.: A sneak peak at the halftime show as SU’s band practices on the snowy field.
12:26: Take a walk through the stadium and pop into the Hard Rock Café, where John Lennon’s “Stand By Me” video is playing on the TV screens and I am somehow compelled to buy a T-shirt.
12:40: Stadium workers use leaf blowers to clear the snow from the yard lines and yard line markers.
12:53: Lunch in the press box. It’s $13, which is fine with me, because I don’t think that’s something teams should be obligated to provide free for the media (or gift bags, for that matter). By New York City price standards, the lunch is well worth it, although I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I’m helping to pay for A-Rod to strike out in the playoffs.
1:07: Legendary SU football coach Dick MacPherson walks through the press box. Wonder if he’d consider a comeback?
1:30: Pre-game press conference with Yankees president Randy Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost, SU athletic director Daryl Gross and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck.
Not much to see here, although Gross says that during the week he and Luck talked about playing each other in a non-conference game in the future. “We’ll be looking to improve our strength of schedule, and playing Syracuse is a good way to do that,” says Luck, the father of Indianapolis Colts phenom quarterback Andrew Luck.
That’s funny. Last year, after it was announced that SU and Pitt were leaving the Big East for the ACC (and West Virginia was still stuck in the Big East before leaving for the Big 12), Luck had this to say about SU football: “In fact, I would trade Air Force or Navy for Syracuse every day of the week in terms of the quality of the football program. No disrespect, but that’s just an observation I think most would agree with who understand football.’’
Makes the bowl win a little sweeter, huh?
2:01: Press conference ends and the snow stops. . . but not for long.
3:00: Snow turns to rain as the West Virginia band performs the pre-game show.
3:09: A moment of silence for the Newtown, Conn., victims, and the national anthem by the WVU band.
3:20: SU wins the coin toss and defers, while the first of many “Let’s Go Orange” chants ring from the Syracuse sections along what is the third-base side of the baseball field.
3:22: Kickoff. The snow is falling, the wind is blowing, and about two-thirds of the media members in the press box, including this one, are wearing their Pinstripe Bowl hats.
3:35: Former Orange basketball stars John Wallace and Scoop Jardine are spotted on the SU sideline.
3:48: SU kicker Ross Krautman scores the game’s first points on a 25-yard field goal with 5 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
4:10: An SU video plays on the huge scoreboard in center field, with the likes of Dwight Freeney, Bob Costas and Jim Boeheim wishing the Orange good luck in the game. SU fans cheer the loudest for Boeheim.
4:15: During a timeout, A.J. pops the question to Anita using the huge video board in center field. She says yes.
4:19: SU quarterback Ryan Nassib gets his bell rung on a sack by WVU linebacker Terence Gavin. It takes Nassib a few moments to get up, but he misses only one play.
4:24: SU halfback Jerome Smith is stopped on a fourth-and-goal play at the 1-yard line. But on the next play, linebackers Cameron Lynch and Siriki Diabate, who’s from the Bronx, sack WVU quarterback Geno Smith in the end zone, causing a fumble that’s recovered by the Mountaineers. The safety gives the Orange a baseball-like 5-0 lead with 7:59 left before halftime.
4:35: Orange halfback Prince-Tyson Gulley’s big day is just starting as he scampers 33 yards for the game’s first touchdown. SU leads 12-0 with 6:07 left in the half.
4:42: WVU’s Smith and wide receiver Stedman Bailey hook up on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 3:38 remaining in the half to slice SU’s lead to 12-7.
4:50: Gulley makes his only mistake of the game, coughing up the ball at the West Virginia 41 and the Mountaineers recover.
5:02: A long and confusing end to the first half as both teams use their final timeouts for no apparent reason. Even the refs are confused as the head ref announces “Halftime is over” when actually it was just starting.
5:05: The SU band performs the halftime show with a tribute to Led Zeppelin. The Orange is about to get on its stairway to heaven in the third quarter.
5:27: Second-half kickoff. I wimp out and move from the first to the second row of the press box seats, where it’s a little warmer.
5:33: Nassib caps an 80-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass that’s tipped by a West Virginia defender into the arms of tight end Beckett Wales.
5:35: The attendance is announced in the press box as 39,098 in-house and 41,203 tickets sold. Doesn’t seem like it to the naked eye, but I’m guessing many people are watching from the concourse or in one of the many restaurants trying to stay warm.
5:39: A holding penalty negates a 28-yard touchdown pass from WVU’s Smith to running back Andrew Buie. It looks like it’s SU’s day.
5:46: Nassib’s pass intended for wide receiver Marcus Sales is intercepted by Isaiah Bruce. Maybe it’s not SU’s day.
5:47: No, it’s definitely SU’s day. Dyshawn Davis recovers a West Virginia fumble on the first play after the interception, leading to Gulley’s 67-yard touchdown run on the next play. Krautman’s extra point clangs off the right upright and sneaks through the goal posts, making it 26-7 with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter.
The 67-yard run is SU’s longest rushing play of the year and second-longest in SU bowl history, and it helps Gulley record the 12th 200-yard game in school history and the first since 2004.
5:57: The Mountaineers score their final points on a 29-yard pass from Smith to Bailey.
6:04: The Orange answers with Nassib’s swing pass to Gulley, who runs 10 yards for a touchdown that boosts SU’s lead to 33-14.
6:10: With Orange defensive end Brandon Sharpe applying the pressure, an intentional grounding call on WVU’s Smith in the Mountaineer end zone gives SU its second safety of the game and a 35-14 lead after three quarters.
SU, which hasn’t recorded a safety since 2004, becomes the first team with two safeties in a bowl game since Virginia in the 2008 Gator Bowl against Texas Tech.
6:14: FDNY firefighter Regina Wilson performs “God Bless America” between the third and fourth quarters. Beautifully done.
6:23: Krautman closes the scoring with a 36-yard field goal that makes it 38-14 with 11:57 to go. It’s the second-most points scored by SU in a bowl game, next to the 41 against Clemson in the 1996 Gator Bowl.
6:31: SU takes over on downs and the stadium workers are still clearing the snow with leaf blowers.
6:37: I look down to the first row of the press box and see Post-Standard football writers Nolan Weidner and Dave Rahme covering perhaps their last SU game because of all of the changes at that newspaper. They’re outstanding reporters, and it’ll be a shame if they don’t cover the team anymore.
6:48: Stadium workers start handing out Pinstripe Bowl champion T-shirts and hats to the SU players. In the stands, the SU side remains mostly full while the West Virginia side is just about empty.
6:52: The game ends. In its last game as a member of the Big East Conference, SU defeats former Big East rival West Virginia 38-14.
6:57: After slapping hands with fans along the left-field warning track, the SU players stand for the alma mater before heading back to midfield for the trophy ceremony.
6:59: Yankees officials Levine and Trost hand the George M. Steinbrenner III championship trophy to SU coach Doug Marrone, who thanks the SU fans and his seniors and ends his brief speech by saying “Syracuse always!” Well, not always always.
7:05: West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen holds his post-game press conference. “A lot of the stuff that we did tonight didn’t work,” Holgorsen says in the understatement of the day.
7:22: Marrone and Gulley hold their post-game press conference. Marrone, an SU grad, talks about how the preseason practices at Fort Drum brought the team together, and says this year’s team was “the closest team I’ve ever coached.” He’s clearly emotional and wistful, and in hindsight, he knows something the rest of us don’t.
7:40: SU players are brought into the media room for interviews. It’s clear the players relished shutting up the cocky Mountaineers for one last time.
“At the end of the day, you can do all the talking you want,” Nassib says. “But it’s who shows up and who plays and we took it right to them today.”
“They didn’t show us much respect this week,” senior tackle Justin Pugh says. “Just going out there and beating West Virginia, it was awesome.”
8:10: Leave the lot for the drive back to Syracuse. The Pinstripe Bowl hat finally comes off.