Late Syracuse defensive stand proves the difference in 22-20 win over UVA
Fifty-seven seconds on the clock remained, and in an error-filled game by both teams, Syracuse was clinging to a 22-20 lead over Virginia. It was up to the Syracuse defense to make one last stand.
The Cavaliers, after being shut out in a woeful first half of play, had gradually been picking up some momentum in the second half. UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong led the offense back onto the field at its own 29-yard line for a final drive, seeking to gain a crucial ACC road win.
The Orange looked ripe for the picking, having lost several players in their secondary, as well as Justin Barrow, who earlier had been ejected for targeting.
Armstrong started the final drive strong with a 12-yard run to move the chains, briefly stopping the clock. Armstrong appeared ready to gain some big yards on a scramble, but Syracuse’s Mikel Jones made a big play, preventing the UVA quarterback from breaking away.
On third down, Syracuse nearly picked off Armstrong, setting up the decisive fourth-and-four at the Virginia 47. Syracuse’s Eric Coley broke up the pass in traffic. On that fatal play, Armstrong appeared to have locked in on intended receiver Lavel Davis Jr., missing Keytaon Thompson, who was standing open near the sideline.
The win moves Syracuse to 4-0 for the first time since 2018. Leading 16-0 at intermission, things looked good for the Orange.
It didn’t come quite so easy, however.
Virginia started the second half marching 75 yards for a touchdown, and on the ensuing kickoff, Syracuse fumbled the ball, and UVA recovered. It took the Cavaliers just two plays to find the end zone, and suddenly the Syracuse lead was just three before Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader had even touched the ball in the third quarter.
Virginia took the lead for the first time at 20-19 with just under six minutes left in the game, plenty of time for the Orange to engineer the game-winning drive.
Syracuse kicker Andre Szmyt connected on five field goals Friday night, including the game-winner, a 31-yard kick with 1:14 remaining.
While the Virginia defense was up to the challenge of facing former assistants Robert Anae and Jason Beck, now at Syracuse, special teams play and penalties cost UVA.
On the opening kickoff, Syracuse’s Trebor Pena returned the ball 57 yards into Virginia territory. Five players later, Orange QB Shrader found the endzone on 17-yard rushing touchdown.
Virginia kicker Brendan Farrell missed first quarter field goals from 50 and 48 yards. The second miss cost Virginia an opportunity to convert a Syracuse turnover, when SU running back fumbled at the Syracuse 37-yard line.
The Virginia defense, the weak link last season, has been steady this season, while the UVA offense has struggled. Against Syracuse the offense totaled just 287 yards, and for the third straight contest scored 21 or fewer points.
Virginia travels to Duke next Saturday night.