SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)Syracuse coach Dino Babers was pleased his team’s offense had come out of its shell, but in a game that saw both teams combine for more than 1,100 yards and 85 points, it was the defense that helped seal a 52-33 win for the Orange.
Western Michigan (2-2) had rallied from a 21-0 deficit to narrow the margin to 38-33 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining and had a fourth-and-1 from its own 42. Momentum was on the Broncos’ side and the Carrier Dome knew it. But Syracuse defensive tackle Kenneth Ruff and safety Evan Foster stopped Davon Tucker about a foot short of the first down. On the subsequent drive, tight end Aaron Hackett caught his second touchdown pass of the game from Tommy DeVito and the Orange (2-2) could exhale.
”We treat fourth-down stops like a turnover,” Babers said. ”That was a really big deal. I thought the one stop was unbelievable where they originally gave them the first down (on third down). For us to come back and stop them on that series was a really big part of the game.”
”We have to be able to convert a fourth-and-short,” said Western Michigan coach Tim Lester, who served as Syracuse offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2013-2015.
DeVito passed for a career-high four touchdowns and ran for one score as Syracuse broke a modest two-game losing streak.
”I’m a throw-first guy but definitely can run if I have to,” said DeVito, who broke off a career-high 60-yard run.
”I thought it was cool that he started the game and finished the game with the same number of interceptions (zero),” Babers said.
Hackett had a career day with six receptions.
”It felt good to finally get out and score my first touchdown in the Dome,” he said.
Trishton Jackson, who had six receptions for 141 yards, also had two touchdown catches for the Orange. Moe Neal led Syracuse with 123 yards rushing and two scores.
Syracuse had been held to a total of 50 points in its previous three games.
”Really proud of the offense to kind of come out of their shell and put some points on the board against any defense in college football, but I’m disappointed in the turnovers,” Babers said.
DeVito was 27 of 35 for 287 yards for Syracuse and picked up 84 yards on the ground. He completed passes to eight different receivers.
Jon Wassink was 23 of 46 for the Broncos for 356 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
”We started slow which hurt us,” Wassink said. ”We turned the ball over a couple times which we can’t do. We started slow and had to claw our way back. We have to be better.”
LeVante Bellamy, who was held in check in the first quarter, finished with 165 yards on just 15 carries before an injury sidelined him in the third quarter. He had touchdown runs of 47 and 43 yards. Giovanni Ricci had a season-high eight catches for 105 yards.
”Their tailback (Bellamy) is exceptional,” Babers said.
The game, marred by sloppy play, saw 19 penalties for nearly 200 yards and five turnovers, all fumbles. Western Michigan turned it over three times and the teams capitalized for touchdowns on four fumbles.
”I thought it was a game of different mood swings, different momentum swings. Felt like one minute we had control of the game and the next thing you know you’re back in a football game,” Babers said.
”Obviously, really disappointed after all the turnovers, the guys were hanging and hanging and by end of third quarter we were in the game,” Lester said.”That was the goal, stay in the game late and make a play in the last couple of drives.The offense had two or three opportunities to score to take the lead and we didn’t. That’s the most frustrating thing.We moved the ball which I was proud of.”
Syracuse wasted little time getting on the board, going 81 yards on four plays, capped by a 23-yard run up the middle by Neal. DeVito scampered 60 yards on the game’s second play to set up Neal’s run.
Syracuse led 24-13 at the half. The third quarter featured four consecutive touchdown drives of less than two minutes each.
WHAT COULD’VE BEEN
Babers said he could only imagine how the game could’ve turned had D’Wayne Eskridge and Bellamy not been injured. Eskridge caught two passes for 53 yards on the Broncos’ first possession but never returned after being hurt on his 43-yard catch.
BACK TO BACK
Bellamy followed his 192-yard effort against Georgia State with another impressive effort. He has 357 yards in his last two games.
Sean Riley is now Syracuse’s all-time leader in kickoffs returned and kickoff return yardage, surpassing wide receiver Qadry Ismail.
Syracuse extended to 18 the number of consecutive games in which the Orange have recorded a takeaway.
Western Michigan: The Broncos didn’t get down after falling behind 21-0 and put a scare into the Orange. With weapons like Bellamy and Ricci the Broncos will be a tough out.
Syracuse: While they scored 52 points, the Orange failed to capitalize on a couple of red-zone opportunities, which has been a recurring issue this season. Ball security will be stressed in the coming week.
Western Michigan: The Broncos host in-state rival Central Michigan Saturday.
Syracuse: The Orange conclude their three-game home stand Saturday against Holy Cross.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25