Blue Raiders Down Orange in Shafer Return
Published on September 10, 2017
Story by Erica Pieschke
Photos by Ivan Traczuk
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders came from behind, then held off two late Syracuse drives to upset the favored Orange 30-23 at the Carrier Dome, Saturday.
It was a triumphant return for former Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer who is now the defensive coordinator for Middle Tennessee. His defense repeatedly stymied the Orange’s fast-paced offense, and stopped Syracuse just short in its final drive to tie the game.
Shafer’s successor as head coach, Dino Babers said the emotion that Shafer’s presence brought had an effect on the SU players.
“There’s nobody to blame but myself,” Babers said. “It’s my job to get them ready, they weren’t ready. We didn’t handle the emotional roller coaster with all the stuff that was brought into this game.”
First Quarter: Slow Start
The teams exchanged punts early in the game, but on MTSU’s second possession the Blue Raiders drove to the Syracuse 24. Evan Foster forced a Brad Anderson fumble and Parris Bennett recovered for Syracuse at the 16..
From there the Orange want backwards.
Dontae Strickland was stopped after a three-yard run. Quarterback Eric Dungey threw an incomplete pass to Steve Ishmael, then was sacked for a six-yard loss.
The snap went over punter Sterling Hofrichter’s head and into the end zone and he took a safety. Middle Tennessee led 2-0 halfway through the first quarter.
A couple of series later, Syracuse’s Jonathan Thomas intercepted a Brent Stockstill pass at the MTSU 19 and ran it back to the four-yard line. The Orange looked to be in business.
But Strickland was stopped for two consecutive losses rushing, and another incomplete pass from Dungey to Ishmael on third down led Syracuse to settle for a field goal. Cole Murphy connected from 25 yards out, putting Syracuse in the lead 3-2.
Shane Tucker returned Murphy’s kickoff 64-yards to the Syracuse 35 and while the first quarter ended with Syracuse ahead 3-2, that wouldn’t last long.
Dungey had a total of four yards passing while Middle Tennessee’s Stockstill ended the quarter with 118 yards.
Second Quarter: Missed chances
Stockstill opened the second quarter by keeping the ball for a 12-yard gain to the SU 14. Ty Lee took it the rest of the way on the next play and Canon Rooker added the extra point, putting Middle Tennessee back in the lead 9-3.
This seemed to fire up Syracuse. After Sean Riley returned the kickoff to the SU 48, the Orange drove to the MTSU one-yard line this time Strickland took it in up the middle.
After Murphy’s extra point, Syracuse had the lead back at 10-9.
The Orange stopped the Blue Raiders and drove again, this time to the MTSU eight-yard line. But a fourth-down pass to Ishmael went incomplete and SU came away empty.
The Orange stopped the Blue Raiders again, and again drove, this time to the MTSU four-yard line. A rush and two incomplete passes left Babers with another choice and this time he took the field goal. Murphy’s 22-yard kick was good.
Syracuse led 13-9 at the half.
Third Quarter: MTSU ties it
Dungey came off the field gimpy, early in the second half after a couple of hard hits, one of which got MTSU defensive end Walter Brady tossed out for targeting.
Backup Zach Mahoney drove Orange to the MTSU 19-yard line but got sacked, losing six yards, and Syracuse set up for another field goal. Murphy made the 40-yard kick, putting Syracuse up 16-9.
The Orange seemed in control when it forced a Blue Raiders’ three-and-out, but Riley fumbled the punt, Ruben Garnett recovered at the SU 28 and the Stockstill was not about to miss another chance.
After getting nowhere on first and second down, he passed found Richie James open for the score.
Rooker’s extra point tied the score at 16-16.
Murphy missed a 40-yard attempt that would have given Syracuse back the lead and the third quarter.
ended with the tie intact.
Fourth Quarter: Blue Raiders finish it
Stockstill opened the fourth quarter with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Ty Lee and suddenly the Blue Raiders had the lead back.
Dungey answered with an eleven-play, 75-yard drive, taking it in himself on a 29-yard keeper up the middle to tie the game at 23.
Stockstill led Middle Tennessee 75 yards in ten plays, hitting Shane Tucker on a a ten-yard crossing route for the touchdown and a 30-23 lead.
Syracuse had two more chances, but Dungey was intercepted on the 24 on the first drive.
The Orange defense held and there was one chance left. Syracuse drove again from its own 40.
With 28 seconds left and the Orange at fourth down and 15 yards to go, Dungey completed a sideline pass to Ishmael who was close to the first-down marker. As the Syracuse crowd held its collective breath, the play was reviewed. The catch was ruled one yard short and MTSU ran out the clock.
“Steve did a great job,” Dungey said. “He executed well on that play and the line did a great job as well. I thought we had it, but I guess not.”
Shafer’s defense held Syracuse to 308 yards of total offense, 126 rushing and stopped the Orange twice in comeback attempts in the fourth quarter.
Middle Tennessee threw an array of blitzes at the Orange and Dungey said that caused difficulty, especially early.
Shafer, who embraced a number of his former players before the game, brought a cigar to his post-game media opportunity but passed on any opportunity to gloat.
“It was never about anything more than the kids, the players,” he told reporters after the game.
“I love those boys on this Middle Tennessee team and I love those boys at Syracuse.”
Quarterback Eric Dungey started out seeming to be affected by the emotion but wound up gaining 89 yards by rushing the ball, 29 of gave him to that touchdown in the fourth quarter.
In addition, Dungey passed a total of 180 yards on 26 completions. This number pushed Dungey past Don McPherson’s career completions to being fifth on the SU list with a total of 373.
McPherson was in the Dome as part of the 30th anniversary of the 1987 undefeated SU team that he quarterbacked, winding up second to Notre Dame’s Tim Brown in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Linebacker Parris Bennett said his past year’s experience of losses gives him knowledge of how to make a come back for the next game.
“I mean you just got to go look at the film. Look at the mistakes and examine yourself hard,” Bennett says. “But you also can’t let the loss weigh on you and effect you for the next game. After you watch the film, and make your adjustments, you’ve got to flush it.”
This was the first loss of the season, and in a game Syracuse was favored to win. Babers said he knows what the team needs to move forward.
“Well the first thing that we need to do is we need to go back and we need to reexamine ourselves tomorrow, and it has to be an honest evaluation,” Babers said.
“You’ve got to drop the E so we can GO. These young men, sometimes you look at them and tell them the truth and sometimes they believe you and sometimes they don’t. I guarantee you all 104 of them will believe tomorrow in the meeting. And with that belief we have an opportunity to be better.”
Syracuse (1-1) hosts Central Michigan (2-0) Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. The Chippewas beat Kansas on Saturday, 45-27.
Middle Tennessee (1-1) will be on the road Saturday, Sept. 16 at 2:30 against the University of Minnesota (2-0.) The Golden Gophers rolled over Oregon State, 48-14.