SYRACUSE, N.Y. — First-year Syracuse coach Dino Babers got the signature win he was looking for.
“The biggest thing about this win is that any time you take over a program you trying to get everybody to buy in, you’re trying to get everybody to work as one,” Babers said after the Orange beat No. 17 Virginia Tech 31-17 on Saturday for their first victory over a ranked opponent since 2012.
“No matter how hard everybody wants to do that, there’s always the naysayers, there’s always the ones who say, ‘Maybe we should be doing it the way the old people, the old team did or the old coaches did it.’ It’s always that way until you get that one win that solidifies you, that brings you together, that hardship that brings the family closer together. That’s what happened today. We’re now family.”
The Orange offense rolled up 561 yards on the nation’s third-ranked defense, converted four of five fourth-down opportunities, and one that didn’t fold when the Hokies came back to tie it.
“A lot of it comes down to looking at the structure of defenses, we’re looking at situations. We’re not reckless,” Babers said. “We don’t just go out on fourth down and say we’re gambling. That’s not what we do.”
Uncharacteristically, Syracuse scored 14 straight points after the Hokies rallied. Under similar scenarios this season, the bottom would have fallen out. Not this time
“We went back to the things that worked,” Babers said. “We knew they were going to be pressing, we’re just playing. We wanted to get into the fourth quarter where we had a chance to win the game.”
The key was quarterback Eric Dungey, who accounted for 417 yards and two touchdowns as Syracuse (3-4, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat No. 17 Virginia Tech (4-2, 2-1 ACC) 31-17 on Saturday for its first victory over a ranked opponent since 2012.
Dungey was 28 of 53 for 311 yards and ran for a career-high 106 yards. Knocked out of the game for one play, Dungey became the Orange player to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 yards in a single game.
He scored on a 1-yard sneak to give the Orange a 24-17 lead with 7:56 to go, and hit Erv Phillips on a 58-yard scoring play in the first quarter.
“Coach (Sean) Lewis and Coach Babers did a good job all week. They helped to put us in situations to put some points up,” Dungey said.
The Orange also featured a defense that played its most inspired game of the year, holding the Hokies to its lowest output of the season. Coming into Saturday’s game off a 34-3 win over North Carolina, Virginia Tech had averaged 39.4 points per game, third in the ACC and 25th nationally.
“For the defense, all week coach has been saying, ‘Why not us?’ This week he kept drilling in us, ‘Why can’t we be great?’ I felt the guys really took that to heart and we came out feeling like we had nothing to lose,” said defensive lineman Dejon Wilson, who recovered a fumble by Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans.
As big a win as it was for the Orange, the game was a huge disappointment to the Hokies, whose head coach blamed himself for the upset.
“I mean they beat us in all three phases of the game,” Justin Fuente said. “That falls on me.”
And now the Hokies have to turn around and play Miami in just five days.
“With this outcome, the challenges of playing in a short week, you’ve got to be ready,” Fuente said.
Syracuse was more than ready Saturday.
“Before the game we felt like we needed to come out with a chip on our shoulder,” said running back Dontae Strickland, who connected with Brisly Estime for an 84-yard touchdown. “Even though we were the underdogs, we did that from the jump and you saw what happened.”
The Hokies tied it at 17 with 13:53 to go in regulation on Evans’ 10-yard pass to Bucky Hodges and a 2-point conversion catch by Chris Cunningham, but Dungey took over after that.
SITTING OUT: Syracuse starting defensive end Kendall Coleman sat out the first half as the result of a targeting penalty against Wake Forest a week ago. Coleman, a true freshman who had started every game, was penalized for targeting quarterback John Wolford in the fourth quarter of a 28-9 loss.
POLL IMPLICATIONS: Virginia Tech will plummet after the upset loss, possibly out of the Top 25 .
Virginia Tech: The Hokies had only allowed 661 yards through the air in their first five games. Syracuse had 405. Virginia Tech had only allowed 20 points combined in its previous three games. The Hokies averaged 39.4 points entering the game.
Syracuse: Three Syracuse players completed passes in the first half: Dungey, Strickland and Estime.
Dungey was not sacked in the first half but was knocked out of the game for one play on a hit by free safety Mook Reynolds. Zack Mahoney replaced him. Philips had 11 receptions, Estime eight, Steven Ishmael six and Etta-Tawo five.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies host Miami on Thursday night.
Syracuse: The Orange travel to Boston College next Saturday.