The Orange put up their best comeback effort, but a costly penalty resulted in the game winning touchdown for Northwestern in the final minute of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats beat the Orange by a final score of 42-41.
Northwestern started the game with a stroke of misfortune after a bad snap on a punt, but its defense held tight and forced Syracuse to settle for a field goal. Syracuse kicked another field goal on its next possession, taking a 6-0 lead. The SU receiving corps didn’t do QB Ryan Nassib any favors and dropped 2 passes in the red zone, a pattern that continued throughout the game.
The gears finally started turning for the Wildcats when Venric Mark returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown with just under two minutes left in the first quarter. Mark became the first Wildcat to return a punt for a TD since 2006 and he finished the game with 203 all-purpose yards, highlighting the poor special teams play from the Orange.
Syracuse answered back right away, mounting a 71 yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, guided by Nassib. The Orange led 13-7 until Nassib was intercepted by Chi Chi Ariguzo mid-way through the second quarter and the Wildcats started their next drive at the Syracuse 21. They scored on the next play on QB Kain Colter’s pass to Mark, giving the Wildcats a 14-13 lead.
Another Colter pass to WR Christian Jones resulted in a Northwestern touchdown at the 1:28 mark. Both teams fumbled on their next possession but neither capitalized, and Northwestern ended the half with a 21-13 lead over the Orange.
Northwestern owned the first half of the third quarter. Ariguzo recovered a Syracuse fumble by Jerome Smith on the Orange’s opening drive and returned it for a touchdown. Syracuse did its best to respond on its ensuing drive, but Ross Krautman was unable to make a 44 yard field goal. It seemed that all hope was lost for the Orange when the Wildcats led 35-13 mid-way into the third quarter.
Nassib came out on the next drive firing, leading a 77 yard drive that resulted in a TD pass to Marcus Sales. Sales was clutch for the Orange, catching 11 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. Syracuse continued its comeback run after forcing a Wildcat three and out, and ended the third quarter down just 35-27.
The SU defense held the Wildcats on their next possession, and it proved costly when the Orange scored on a Nassib pass to Jeremiah Kobena. A failed 2 point conversion attempt made the score 35-33, but the Orange scored again to take the lead after a timely three and out posted by the SU defense.
Northwestern got the ball back at its own 25 with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter. After driving all the way to the Syracuse 27, the Orange defense needed to make a big stop on 3rd down and 15 to clinch the win. QB Trevor Siemian didn’t manage to get the first, but a costly and questionable call on Syracuse for unnecessary roughness gave the Wildcats a second chance, and they scored the game winning touchdown on a Siemian pass to Demetrius Fields.
Nassib finished the day with an impressive 470 passing yards, completing 67% of his passes, while Colter finished with 14 of 21 passing for 135 yards and rushing for 40 yards.
The gut-wrenching loss for SU will hopefully not affect its morale as they take on #1 USC next week at the Meadowlands.