SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After two disheartening road losses, the weight of the world has been lifted a bit off the Syracuse Orange.
Eric Dungey threw two touchdown passes and ran for another and the Syracuse defense stymied Pittsburgh’s offense on third down as the Orange held on for a 27-24 victory Saturday.
“It was good to finally get that monkey off our back. It’s our third close game,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “All the way in the second half, five minutes to go, who’s going to win the game? You don’t know.
“To see the team rally together, and to have all three units play well, special teams, offense and defense, contributed to an ACC Atlantic win.”
Syracuse’s win was its first over the Panthers in five years and kept the team’s bowl hopes alive.
“With six games to play we have an opportunity to win more than half of them,” Babers said.” If we can do that we’ll be a bowl team. We haven’t been a bowl team in a long time.”
The schedule is daunting, however, with games against Clemson, Miami, Florida State and Louisville in the second half of the season. But wide receiver Devin C. Butler, who had a touchdown and personal highs of seven receptions for 64 yards, believes things are starting to fall into place.
Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) was coming off single-digit losses to LSU and North Carolina State.
“The team is coming together. We’re putting the pieces together,” Butler said. “We feel as though we should have won our last two games. We made some mental mistakes that held us back, but we’re finally putting it together.”
Dungey, however, was less than impressed.
“It’s good, but like I’ve said we had so much to improve on,” the junior quarterback said. “The game was way too close. We could have put it away and we had a lot of opportunities to, but it’s always nice to get that win.”
Pitt (2-4, 0-2) had won 11 of the last 12 in the series and was 4-0 against Syracuse since both teams joined the ACC.
Pitt didn’t record its first third-down conversion until midway through the fourth quarter and finished 3 of 13.
“When you come in at halftime and see the opposing team has not converted a third down, that’s absolutely amazing,” Babers said.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said his team left way too many plays on the field.
“We left a lot of plays out there, whether it’s on offense or defense. We didn’t really have a lot of plays,” he said.
Syracuse ran 91 plays to 59 for the Panthers, but penalties and the repeated failures on third down were Pitt’s undoing. They were penalized just six times, but several came at key moments.
“We took too many personal fouls. One on the quarterback (Dungey) and one on third down,” Narduzzi said.
“Definitely, I mean, you have to be a disciplined football team,” Pitt defensive back Avonte Maddox added.
Dungey was 33 of 49 for 365 yards and ran for 48 more for 413 total yards. His 10-yard rushing score, which gave Syracuse a 17-13 lead with 6:59 left in the third quarter, was the ninth in his Syracuse career, tying him with Donovan McNabb and Bill Hurley for the top spot among quarterbacks.
Pitt quarterback Max Browne was 15 of 22 for 161 yards before leaving the game with an apparent arm injury in the third quarter. Backup Ben DiNucci was 6 of 10 for 55 yards for the Panthers.
Cole Murphy’s 38-yard field goal extended Syracuse’s lead to 20-13 late in the third quarter. Alex Kessman’s 56-yard field goal, a Carrier Dome record, brought Pitt to 20-16 early in the fourth, but Dungey hit Steve Ishmael on a 35-yard scoring play to extend Syracuse’s lead to 27-16. Pitt made it close on a 19-yard run by Qadree Ollison and two-point conversion with 7:15 to go.
After last year’s 76-61 Pitt win — the highest scoring game in FBS history — the teams slugged it out in a defensive first half which ended in a 10-10 tie. Pitt didn’t get its initial first down — on a Syracuse penalty — until the last play of the first quarter.
“You try not to harp on last year too much,” DiNucci said. “But what we were saying going into this game was the last three times we’ve been here it’s been real close, so we knew it was going to be a dogfight again from the start.”
Three of last five games between the two teams have been decided by three points or less.
The Orange weren’t much better in the first half. After an opening drive that led to a Murphy 26-yard field goal, Syracuse struggled until Dungey hit Butler with a 32-yard scoring pass with 34 seconds left in the half.
Pitt had taken a 10-3 lead on a 35-yard touchdown run by Jordan Whitehead and 49-yard field goal by Kessman.
PITT: Pitt’s road to a bowl game took a huge hit, with North Carolina State up next. Rafael Araujo-Lopes led the Panthers with seven receptions.
SYRACUSE: Syracuse coach Dino Babers is 37-0 when leading after three quarters. … Dungey opened up the passing game, hitting six different receivers, including tight end Ravian Pierce, who had a career-high nine receptions for 99 yards. Dontae Strickland had 81 yards rushing on 25 carries.
PITT: Pitt has a tough home matchup Saturday against No. 24 North Carolina State.
SYRACUSE: The Orange begin a daunting three-game stretch, hosting No.2 Clemson on Friday night. Syracuse has road games against Miami and Florida after the Tigers.