The last time the Syracuse Orange football team defeated a top-10 ranked team was back in 2002, until today.
In 2002, it was Virginia Tech, who was ranked seventh in the ESPN/USA Today poll and eighth in the Associated Press poll. Syracuse needed three overtimes to win that game, 50-42.
Today, it was Louisville, who came in ranked ninth in the BCS standings and 11th in the Associated Press poll.
No overtime was needed in this match, though, with Louisville tying Syracuse at best, but the Orange never going down in the match. "Obviously we're very excited, beating a number nine ranked BCS team coming in here undefeated," said Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. "I was very proud of our players."
"We executed very well," expressed Marrone. "When you're 9-0, you really don't have a lot of weaknesses. I just think we were able to execute well and our kids did a very nice job of it."
In the 1st Quarter:
Syracuse got started early, scoring on the game's opening drive. The drive began on the ground with running back Jerome Smith gaining a first down after three straight carries.
With the run working, the Orange took to the pass as quarterback Ryan Nassib went from his own territory to the Louisville 19-yard line thanks to wide receiver Jeremiah Kobena getting low and catching the ball in traffic.
The balanced offense continued for Syracuse, with Smith carrying the ball on the following play for a first down that placed the Orange inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line. The ball would remain on the ground as Nassib and Smith helped Syracuse get just inside the three-yard line. But when wide receiver Jarrod West did not hold onto a well-placed ball, the Orange settled for a field goal from kicker Ross Krautman.
Syracuse's defense began their first stance with a penalty when defensive end Markus Pierce-Brewster went offsides.
After going to the run on first down, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater attempted a pass that was covered well by cornerback Keon Lyn. But, Bridgewater tried again on the next play, gaining a first down on 3rd and 2.
Enter defensive tackle Deon Goggins, who got Louisville running back Senorise Perry down on back-to-back plays with an offsides penalty on the Cardinals in between. But the rest of the defense would allow two passes for first downs from Bridgewater before Orange cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson exhibited good man-to-man coverage to keep the Cardinals out of the end zone. Louisville settled for a field goal by kicker John Wallace to tie the game at 3-3.
Syracuse could not get it going on their next drive, punting the ball away, but the special teams came through for the biggest offensive play of the drive that never happened when they recovered a fumble on Louisville's attempted punt return.
After an early start with Smith and fellow running back Prince-Tyson Gulley, the Orange offense stalled, but whether he meant to or not, Nassib made a headsy play throwing to the middle of the end zone. The ball was not caught but a pass interference penalty was called, giving Syracuse a new set of downs. Gulley would head to the outside on a carry, stop, turn upfield, and lead in for a touchdown to put the Orange up 10-3 toward the final three minutes of the quarter.
The Syracuse defense rushed Bridgewater on the drive, stopping him for no gain courtesy of defensive end Brandon Sharpe and strong safety Shamarko Thomas, but the Orange struggled to stunt the Cardinals' backfield, with Jeremy Wright gaining two first downs, followed by Corvin Lamb catching a short pass which he sped by everyone to take into the end zone from 53 yards away, tying the game once again, this time at 10-10.
Syracuse's offense got back on the field with about 1:30 left in the quarter, with Smith finding a hole and taking a carry 22 yards to start the drive. Nassib would then complete two of three passes, getting the Orange to the Cardinals' 32-yard line before the end of the quarter.
In the 2nd Quarter:
On the Louisville 32 on 2nd and 4, Nassib showed his continued prowess on keepers, gaining a new set of downs to open the quarter for Syracuse. The Orange would keep the ground attack going for the next four plays as Smith was utilized by carrying the ball and on a fake, where Nassib got the best of the Louisville defense for a first down.
From there, the all-senior connection took over, with Nassib targeting wide receiver Alec Lemon three times, completing the ball twice, the second for a touchdown on the left side of the end zone, after almost tossing an interception the play before. The Orange gained the lead once again, 17-10, early in the quarter.
Special teams provided another big play when they pitted the Cardinals behind their own 10-yard line on the kickoff, courtesy of linebacker Oliver Vigille. Fellow linebacker Siriki Diabate would take over from there, taking down Louisville for a loss of two and then chasing Bridgewater out of the pocket, which resulted in an incomplete pass.
From there, Bridgewater would move the ball through the air, but defensive tackle Jay Bromley would later make a statement on third down, tackling the Cardinals for a loss to force Louisville's first punt of the game.
On a drive that began with Nassib fumbling the snap and recovering the ball after a seven-yard loss, the Orange offense would again prove superior to the defense of the Cardinals. Nassib was a perfect three-for-three on the drive, completing all his passes to Lemon, the last being taken into the end zone by Lemon after staying on his feet and turning inward, eluding two defenders. Syracuse led 24-10 with about six minutes before the break.
The Syracuse defense came on, preventing Louisville from getting into a rhythm, stopping the Cardinals for a loss of three, no gain, and eventually forcing Louisville to punt on their second consecutive drive as Pierce-Brewster stayed active in prevention and the Orange pressure continued to get the best of Bridgewater.
With the ball back to Syracuse, Gulley began the drive with an eight-yard run, which Nassib followed by going to Lemon yet again, but the ball went off of his fingertips. After this incompletion, Syracuse chose to go back to the run on 3rd and 2, which ended up being the right choice as Gulley took the carry to the right side, eluded a tackle attempt, stumbled but remained inbounds, as he took off in front of the Louisville defense en route to a 55-yard touchdown run. Gulley's second score of the game elevated the Orange to a 31-10 lead with a little over two minutes to go before the half.
The Cardinals would take their next drive, which began on their own 30, to the 26-yard line of the Orange. But on third down, Thomas would head for Bridgewater's legs, taking him out of bounds before he attained a first down, preventing a touchdown from Louisville, who settled for a field goal to end the first half trailing Syracuse, 31-13.
In the 3rd Quarter:
Louisville gains a first down on their first play of the second half, only to have tight end Ryan Hubbell drop a pass on third down, sending their third possession in four drives away via punt.
On third down, it only made sense for Nassib to follow the pattern and target Lemon, who caught the ball and brought a new set of downs. The balanced attack would then go back to the ground as Smith was given the nod. On 3rd and 2, the same situation that Gulley was in when he ran the ball in for a touchdown, Smith would take his carry 35 yards to put Syracuse ahead 38-13 a few seconds under the 10-minute mark.
The Orange special teams unit made their third big play of the game when they stopped the Cardinals at their own 13 on the following kickoff.
After achieving consecutive first downs, Louisville would stop themselves on the drive as Wright failed to catch the ball while he was open, leading to the Cardinals' fourth punt in five drives.
Running back Ashton Broyld would enter the game to carry the ball three straight times for Syracuse, keeping the drive going, but later on on 4th and 1, the Orange would elect to punt; it was only the second punt for Syracuse on nine drives (Syracuse purposely ended one of the drives on a knee before the half). The punt was quite possibly Jonathan Fisher's best of the season thus far, pitting the Cardinals back at their own six-yard line.
Despite the field position, Bridgewater would complete all four of his passes, leading to a Louisville touchdown off of a reception and run into the end zone on a 44-yard play where wide receiver Eli Rogers crossed the threshold. But Syracuse's special teams would make another big play, blocking the extra point attempt by Louisville's John Wallace, courtesy of their nose tackle Eric Crume. The Orange lead became 19, up 38-19 with just under two minutes to go in the quarter.
Syracuse's special teams squad was not done as Kobena brought the Orange to their own 44-yard line to start the drive off of his kickoff return.
Nassib and Lemon continued their domination of the Cardinals' secondary when they linked up on a passing play that ended on the Louisville 36-yard line.
In the 4th Quarter:
The Orange would continue their drive by heading back to the ground on five straight runs, before Nassib and Lemon connecting once again, and for another first down.
On the Cardinals' 10-yard line, running back Adonis Ameen-Moore made his return after sitting out two games due to injury. His presence resulted in a carry he took to Louisville's three-yard line for a first down, followed by Nassib's fake to him which opened up linebacker Lewellyn Coker, serving as a fullback, for his first touchdown, after initially bobbling the reception. Coker's first career touchdown extended the Orange lead to 26, ahead 45-19 with about 11 minutes left in the match.
Bridgewater would go five-for-six through the air on the next drive, despite fumbling the ball during Louisville's possession. His fifth completion went to wide receiver DeVante Parker, the team's leader in receiving yards, from eight yards away to bring the game to 45-26 in favor of the home squad, Syracuse.
Neither side would score after that, although Bridgewater did drive the Cardinals down the field on his next opportunity. But that chance to score was negated by Orange linebacker Dyshawn Davis when he attained his first interception of the season with Louisville inside Syracuse territory.
Moore remained in the game on the final drive for the Orange, asked once again to run out the clock. He answered with two first downs on six carries.
Then, on the final play of the game, it was only fitting for the Nassib to touch the field of the Carrier Dome one last time, as his knee marked Syracuse's first win under head coach Doug Marrone, and his first victory, over the Louisville Cardinals.
The Orange win elevated them back to .500 at 5-5 overall, getting them one victory away from becoming bowl eligible.
Syracuse has had its most success of the season from within the Big East Conference, winning four of their five games against conference foes, with a 4-2 record in the Big East.
Louisville no longer has a goose egg in their loss column overall, heading to 9-1, or in the conference, as their Big East record now stands at 4-1.
But the win had a double meaning as far as the timing. The victory gave 15 players on the Orange a positive ending to all the adversity faced in their time at Syracuse, as they played their final game inside the Carrier Dome. "I'm proud of the seniors in this group to be able to go out with a win," stated Marrone. "Obviously some of those seniors played extremely well for us. Obviously Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon had great days. Marcus Sales helped quite a bit. Defensively, Shamarko Thomas did a nice job."
The second meaning was a remembrance and a respect for what the military has done for the country with Veterans' Day following on Sunday. "When we took a knee and said a prayer at the end, I just wanted to make sure we kept in mind the military for Veterans' Day," said Marrone, who has kept the team close to the military with their time spent at Fort Drum during Fall camp.
Overall, as the leader of the Syracuse Orange football program, Marrone was happy with the win. "I'm proud of the players," shared Marrone. "We played well. We made less mistakes (no turnovers). We were able to get the ball vertically down the field (Nassib ended 15-for-23 for 246 yards and three touchdowns). We had a good balanced attack (246 passing yards to go with 278 rushing yards). I think at times we were able to move Teddy Bridgewater off spot, who's a very good quarterback. We kept up the lead and the momentum as we went on."
Nassib is now first among all Syracuse football alum in career completions (738) and second all-time in passing yards (8,460), behind only Marvin Graves.
Lemon extends in career receptions to 182, setting the bar even higher to attain first place in Syracuse history.
Smith had his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game, gaining 144 yards from scrimmage.