SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Eric Dungey threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and Syracuse held off No. 22 NC State 51-41 on Saturday night to become eligible for the postseason for the first time in five years.
Syracuse (6-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), which snapped a two-game losing streak last time out with a 40-37, double-overtime victory over North Carolina, improved to 5-0 in the Carrier Dome. It was only the Orange’s second win in 12 games against the Wolfpack.
“It was a fabulous win,” said Syracuse coach Dino Babers, who was 4-8 in each of his first two seasons. “For a team to have the opportunity to have a winning season, it’s something I’ll always be proud of.”
NC State (5-2, 2-2), which was coming off its first loss of the season, a 41-7 thrashing at No. 2 Clemson, fell behind early, rallied, then ran out of time at the end. Orange linebacker Andrew Armstrong sealed the victory with an interception at the Wolfpack 23-yard line with 2:18 left.
“For us to get that turnover was the difference,” Babers said. “It only took one the way we were playing.”
Babers did not reveal his starter at quarterback before the game, but Dungey got the nod over redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito, the hero in last week’s victory. The senior responded in a big way, answering every challenge by the Wolfpack and their ace quarterback, Ryan Finley, in a game punctuated by big plays by both stars.
Dungey finished 27 of 38 for 411 yards passing with zero turnovers. Finley was 26 of 44 for a career-high 473 yards and three scores and the only turnover of the game as the teams combined for 1,102 total yards. He hit Kelvin Harmon 11 times for a career-high 247 yards and two scores.
“I think we’ve got to put it behind us,” Finley said. “I think the defense gave us a shot down the stretch. We had a drive to win. We just didn’t make it happen. Give them credit. They played well.”
Dungey, who was averaging 273.8 yards offensively per game, passed for 204 yards in a first-quarter blitz that gave Syracuse a 24-7 lead, and his 1-yard plunge in the third quarter, his ninth rushing touchdown of the season, put the Orange ahead 34-20.
The Wolfpack responded with a 75-yard scoring drive keyed by Finley’s 49-yard pass to tight end Cary Angeline, who was all alone down the right side. That set up Brady Bodine’s 1-yard run.
Dungey then hit Taj Harris for a 31-yard TD, faking a run before hitting his wide-open freshman receiver. The play left Dungey just 16 yards shy of 10,000 for his career, tops in school history.
“I think it (the victory) is huge for this senior class,” Dungey said. “We’ve been through a lot. This is a great win. Every win against a ranked opponent is big.”
Finley’s 16-yard pass to Angeline set up Reggie Gallaspy’s 1-yard run early in the fourth, cutting the Orange lead to 41-34.
“I’m proud of our guys for finding a way to get back into it,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “The bottom line, in the second half we couldn’t get off the field. We needed to score on every possession. That’s the kind of game it was.”
Andre Szmyt’s third field goal of the game, a 41-yarder, gave the Orange a 10-point lead with 9:44 to play. Dungey keyed that drive with a 29-yard pass to Sean Riley on a third-and-21 play.
A key for the Orange defense was trying to put pressure on Finley, a tall order considering the Wolfpack had only allowed three sacks on the year. Syracuse pressured a lot and only managed to sack him once, but the Orange forced the Wolfpack into four three-and-outs in gaining the big early lead.
After a 29-yard field goal by Szmyt, Finley hit a streaking Emeka Emezie down the middle for a 67-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
The Orange responded in 36 seconds, with Dungey lofting a perfectly thrown pass to Nykeim Johnson deep down the middle for an 82-yard score.
The Syracuse defense forced two more three-and-outs, and Dungey took advantage. He hit Jamal Custis for 45 yards down the right sideline to set up Jarveon Howard’s 2-yard scoring run, then completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Custis for a 24-7 lead with 2:39 left in the opening period. The scoring pass to Custis was set up by a 48-yard completion by tailback Dontae Strickland to Sean Riley.
Unfazed, the Wolfpack responded with a 13-point surge to narrow the lead to 24-20, getting a pair of short field goals (25 and 29 yards) from Christopher Dunn and taking advantage of a crucial penalty by the Orange.
After Syracuse forced its fourth three-and-out of the game, Riley was called for roughing the kicker. Given new life, Finley quickly made the Orange pay, hitting Harmon on a 74-yard bomb midway through the second.
Szmyt’s 45-yard field goal, his 20th of the season, gave the Orange a 27-20 halftime lead.
NC State entered the game converting half of their third downs in league play (20 of 40), the top mark in the ACC. The Wolfpack converted just 3 of 11 in the opening half and finished 6 of 15.
DeVito, who had played in five games and was 28 of 53 for 399 yards and four TDs with one interception, played one series in the second quarter to try to jumpstart the Orange offense like he did a week ago. Syracuse punted after three plays that included an intentional grounding.
NC State: The Wolfpack have plenty of firepower with Finley at the helm but likely will fall out of the national rankings.
Syracuse: The Orange have not been ranked since 2001 and though they didn’t get any votes last week they have proved their mettle. With Dungey at the helm, the offense continues to put up a lot of points. They entered the game averaging 42.6 and have scored over 50 four times.
NC State will try to clinch bowl eligibility at home against Florida State next Saturday
Syracuse plays at Wake Forest next Saturday.