Syracuse 22, Virginia Tech 14
October 27, 2001
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
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Blacksburg, VA - Syracuse took advantage of numerous Virginia Tech mistakes in the first half, plus a critical interference call in the third quarter, to snap the Hokies' 16-game home winning streak and end Tech's 2001 national title hopes, 22-14.
The Orangemen opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game with a 51-yard punt return for a TD by Jamel Riddle, and shortly after that turned a Virginia Tech fumble into a short touchdown drive to go up 14-0. Syracuse tacked on a field goal right before half time after Tech punter Vinnie Burns dropped a snap and then had his punt blocked and recovered on the Virginia Tech 8 with 7 seconds to go. Syracuse lined up, kicked the field goal, and took a 17-0 lead into half time.
The Hokies were able to rally for a score on their first drive of the second half, making it 17-7, and they had Syracuse backed up for a third and 20 on their own 10 yard line on the ensuing drive. Syracuse QB R.J. Anderson overthrew James Mungro, but Tech cornerback Ronyell Whitaker was called for an extremely questionable interference penalty, giving Syracuse new life. The Orangemen turned the drive into three points, kicking a 45-yard field goal to make it 20-7 early in the fourth quarter.
The Hokies scored again on a pass from Grant Noel to Shawn Witten to make it 20-14, and after a Tech defensive stop, Syracuse pinned the Hokies inside their five yard line on a punt with two and a half minutes to go. On second down, Noel was sacked in the end zone for a safety, providing the final margin of 22-14.
Syracuse shut down the Hokie running game, limiting Tech to just 90 yards on 34 carries, including an embarrassing 0 yards in the first half. The Hokies had 92 first half yards, all of them in the air. For the game, Tech had 162 yards passing and 252 total yards. Syracuse, led by James Mungro's 102 yards on 23 carries, had 168 yards rushing but just 220 yards overall (41 of which came on a very late Mungro run with the game already decided).
The Orangemen played nearly flawless football, recording zero turnovers and giving up no cheap scores to Tech. By contrast, the Hokies lost two fumbles, gave up the punt return for a score, and gift-wrapped Syracuse's first field goal on Burns's dropped snap. The Hokies generally weren't sharp and made very few plays until the second half, when it was too late.
Syracuse QB R.J. Anderson was only 6-17 for 52 yards, but he escaped the Tech rush several times and made key plays, including converting a key third down in the third quarter after eluding Ben Taylor, who appeared to have him wrapped up. More importantly, Anderson didn't throw any interceptions.
Syracuse converted 8 of 18 third down conversions, including three in a row in the time-consuming second-half drive that put them up 20-7. The Orangemen also hurt the Hokies on second and long, often rushing for big yardage to either get the first down or set up third and short. By contrast, the Hokies only converted 4 of 13 third-down tries and had only two drives that were longer than 6 plays.
In the second half, as the Hokies were trying to mount a comeback, they only had 4 possessions (including the final short possession resulting in a safety) and had the ball for just 12:22.
To start the game, Syracuse won the coin toss and opted to defer. The Hokies punted from their own 14, and Burns's punt was a low line drive that Riddle fielded cleanly on his 49 and ran straight up the middle nearly untouched for the TD.
After the two teams traded punts, the Hokies made a key mistake when freshman tailback Kevin Jones dropped an option pitch on second and 3 from the Tech 27. Jones had a chance to recover the football, but Syracuse covered it instead on the Hokie 17. Syracuse punched it in on four straight running plays, scoring on a one-yard run by Mungro with 7:35 to go in the first quarter to make it 14-0, Orangemen.
From that point on, neither team would threaten to score for most of the first half. Syracuse had the best chance when they recovered a fumble by Tech receiver Andre Davis on the Hokie 40 with 2:34 to go in the half. Tech was successful in stopping Syracuse on a three and out, but Syracuse punter Mike Shafer pinned the Hokies on their own one-yard line with 58 seconds to go.
Instead of running out the clock, the Hokies ran a series of pass plays, calling timeouts to conserve the clock. Tech wound up with a fourth and 6 from their 20 with about 12 seconds to go. Tech punter Vinnie Burns dropped the snap, and when he picked it up and attempted to kick it, the Orangemen blocked it and recovered at Tech's 8 yard line with 7 seconds to go in the half. Syracuse immediately kicked the field goal to take a 17-0 lead into the half.
The Hokies came out fired up in the second half and held Syracuse on the first drive. Tech took over on their own 21 and promptly mounted a 14-play, 79-yard drive for a TD. The drive ate up 6:57 from the clock and made it 17-7 with 4:36 to go in the third quarter. The Hokies picked up 68 yards rushing on 10 carries in the drive and scored when Keith Burnell ran a sweep to the right from the 2-yard line and tucked the ball inside the pylon for the score.
With the Lane Stadium crowd whipped into a frenzy, Syracuse mounted their most important drive of the game. The Hokies threw Mungro for a 3-yard loss and then sacked Anderson, forcing Syracuse to a third and 20 from their 10 yard line. On the ensuing play, Anderson overthrew Mungro downfield, and Tech's Ronyell Whitaker hit Mungro on the play. Though the ball appeared to be uncatchable, the referee called Whitaker for a key interference penalty, giving Syracuse a first down.
The Orangemen parlayed the first down into a 15-play, 52-yard drive that ended in Collin Barber's 45-yard field goal with 12:25 to go in the fourth quarter, extending Syracuse's lead to 20-7. After the interference call on Whitaker, Syracuse converted three straight third downs, including a third and 5 from their 41 that saw Anderson evade Ben Taylor's tackle on a blitz and then hit Johnnie Morant for a 19-yard gain down the sideline.
Tech responded to the Syracuse field goal with a crisp drive from the VT 24 to the Syracuse 18 yard line. But from there, on fourth and 4, Noel's pass to tight end Browning Wynn was dropped, and Syracuse took possession.
The Hokies quickly stuffed the Orange and took possession on the Tech 35, but time was running out, and there was only 7:55 left to go in the game. Tech ripped off an 11-play, 65-yard drive in just 2:36, making it 20-14 when Noel hit Shawn Witten for a TD near the pylon on third and 10 from the SU 17. During the drive, Noel converted two third downs and a fourth down, hitting Ernest Wilford on a crossing pattern for a 16-yard gain on fourth and 5 from the Syracuse 33.
Mungro returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the Syracuse 37, and the Orange took over there with 5:19 to go. They converted a third and 9 and drove to their 49 yard line. With just under three minutes go, Syracuse punter Mike Shafer booted a 48-yard punt that died at the Tech 4 yard line with 2:36 to go.
Facing a 96-yard drive for the win, the Hokies threw an incomplete pass, and then on second down, Noel was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
The Hokies tried an unsuccessful on-sides kick, and after Syracuse was whistled for offsides on the play, Tech tried again, but Tech kicker Jon Mollerup kicked the ball out of bounds. The Orange ran out the clock from there for the 22-14 win.
The Hokies are left to pick up the pieces of what they had hoped would be a run to the Rose Bowl. The national championship game is now out of the question, but Tech can still win the Big East by winning out, including defeating Miami on December 1st in Blacksburg. They'll need some help (most notably, Syracuse must lose at least one Big East game), but it's what they must now shoot for.
Tech's next game is next week at Pittsburgh. The game is cast as a noon game, to be televised on ESPN+/Big East Regional TV.
RUSHING: Syracuse-Mungro 23-102, Anderson 21-63, K Johnson 4-6, Jackson 1-2, Reyes 2-minus 1, Team 2-minus 4. Virginia Tech-K Burnell 13-51, Jones 6-29, Ferguson 4-11, R Johnson 1-9, Andre Davis 1-4, Noel 9-minus 14.
PASSING: Syracuse-Anderson 6-17-0-52. Virginia Tech-Noel
RECEIVING: Syracuse-Morant 1-19, Tyree 1-13, J Riddle 1-9, Campbell 1-8, K Johnson 1-3, Mungro 1-0. Virginia Tech-Ferguson 5-43, Witten 4-45, E Wilford 2-23, Andre Davis 2-13, Wynn 1-19, E Johnson 1-19.