Syracuse's Riley Dixon found Kendall Moore in the end zone on a fourth-down fake field goal attempt in double overtime, and after a Villanova touchdown, Robert Welsh stopped John Robertson on the potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt to give the Orange a thrilling 27-26 victory over the Wildcats in the opener at the Carrier Dome on Friday night.
After both teams kicked field goals on their respective possessions in the first overtime, it looked like the Orange would attempt a field goal after Adonis Ameen-Moore was stopped just shy of the goal line on third down in the first possession of the second OT. Dixon, the holder and SU's regular punter, took the snap and rolled left, tossing to the tight end Moore in the left corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Villanova took over needing a touchdown and extra point to force a third OT, and after an incomplete pass and a five-yard run, Robertson found Gary Underwood in the right side of the end zone for the touchdown. Rather than kick the extra point to tie, the Wildcats elected to go for the two-point conversion and the win. Robertson, the Preseason CAA Player of the Year who finished the game with 115 rushing yards on 34 attempts, looked to keep it himself again, but was quickly greeted by Welsh and a swarming Orange defense to end the game.
"We're 1-0, that's all that counts," said head coach Scott Shafer. "Was it pretty? No, it wasn't pretty, but we found a way. I'm proud of the fact that we came away with the victory, I'm extreme'y pleased and happy with the fans that showed up. They said we had 41,000 people. The people that stayed to the end when we needed them the most were there for us like they always have been. I just have to thank the fans and the community because we're going to get it better every week, but there's something good about saying that it wasn't the performance that we wanted but we got a victory. Teams when they grow and mature, they find a way to win ugly. I've lost pretty and that's no good."
The game went to overtime after Villanova's Chris Gough missed wide right on a 25-yard field goal attempt with 12 seconds left in regulation.
Sophomore quarterback Austin Wilson made his debut, going 11-of-17 passing for 89 yards, all in the second half. He entered the game with late in the second quarter after starter Terrel Hunt (10-of-17, 94 yards) was ejected for throwing a punch.
"The NCAA is pushing to make sure we clean up football and they said that was going to be an emphasis," Shafer said. "That was a shame, but it gave us an opportunity to put Austin Wilson in the game and see what he could do, and to lean on some other people to find a way to win a game. That's what it's about."
Prince-Tyson Gulley led the way on the ground for the Orange, piling up 100 yards on 11 carries, highlighted by a first-quarter 65-yard touchdown run for the game's first points. It was the third 100-yard game of his career.
Jarrod West and Ashton Broyld were the Orange's top receivers, each hauling in five passes for 59 and 57 yards, respectively.
"He's such a damn good football player," Shafer said of Robertson. "That was a hell of an effort by that kid. I've been around football my whole life and that kid is a gutsy son of a gun."
The double-overtime win is the first for 'Cuse since it beat Wyoming 40-34 in 2006.
"It was pretty crazy," Shafer said. "I've been around a lot of them around the years, but that was pretty crazy. You live in the moment and you're just going one play at a time every 10 or 12 seconds trying to make good decisions. What happens is I'll go home tonight and I'll reflect and say 'holy mackerel,' that was some crazy stuff going on out there"
The Orange will return to action after a week off, with the team hitting the road to Central Michigan for a Sept. 13 contest that will kick off at Noon.