SYRACUSE, New York — Like Syracuse, Boston College has nowhere to go but up.
The Orange got the jump Saturday on the Eagles, beating them 20-17 on Cole Murphy's 35-yard field goal as time expired.
The kick, in Scott Shafer's final game as coach of the Orange (4-8, 2-6 ACC), snapped an eight-game losing streak and extended Boston College's skid to eight heading to the offseason.
"I thought our guys played hard, but we are not finding a way to win in the end," BC coach Steve Addazio said. "That's something we need to do, and that's something that's going to be forged here in the offseason. We're going back to the old days. It's going to be a rough offseason. We're going to get better."
The game featured 17 penalties for 174 yards — 11 by BC for 119 — and that helped spell doom for the Eagles.
Boston College (3-9, 0-8 ACC) had only nine first downs and 239 yards offensively, all but nine of that on the ground as freshman quarterback Jeff Smith struggled passing. He finished 1 of 13 for nine yards with two interceptions but kept the Eagles in the game with his feet, rushing for 117 yards on 13 carries. Tyler Rouse ran for 111 yards and scored twice to pace the Eagles.
"Jeff played hard and made some big plays. He did well," Addazio said. "Obviously, the penalties are huge. There was a lot of pressure being put on Jeff Smith and we were not very comfortable with that. It was a struggle."
The Orange players rallied around their coach one final time, carrying him off the field on their shoulders in celebration.
Syracuse athletic director Mark Coyle, who was hired in June, fired Shafer on Monday, two days after a 13-point loss at North Carolina State. Shafer had one year left on a four-year deal. He finished with a 14-23 record in his first head coaching job.
"It was sad to see Scott Shafer, a classy guy, a really good football coach," Addazio said. "I wish him nothing but the best."
Ervin Philips rushed for 73 yards and scored on a 2-yard reception, and Steven Ishmael had a 1-yard TD catch for the Orange. Syracuse finished with 153 yards rushing and held the ball for nearly 10 minutes longer than BC.
Against the best rushing defense in the nation — BC entered allowing 76.7 yards per game on the ground — the Orange drove 51 yards in 10 plays to win it.
Murphy's winning kick sailed right down the middle as the players mobbed Shafer.
"We were looking for a win. We accomplished the goal," Ishmael said. "It was really emotional. It was like a movie out there."
Of the Orange's eight losses, only two were close — 23-20 to Pitt at home and 44-38 in triple overtime at Virginia. Syracuse lost the other six by an average of 17 points. This one was close and this time the Orange prevailed, thanks to BC's anemic offense.
Smith misfired on his first 10 passes before hitting Thadd Smith for nine yards with 6:40 left in the game.
"We ran for 230 (yards)," Addazio said. "We know one game we threw for 230 and another threw for 250. We need to do both at the same time. That's really where we need to be."
BC lost five games by a combined 14 points and it was easy to see why. The Eagles offense, next to last in the nation at 229 yards per game, couldn't be bailed out enough by the nation's best defense, and that was on display again in the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse gained a 10-7 halftime lead, capitalizing once on a turnover, and the Orange defense limited the Eagles to 80 yards, all on the ground, as Smith was intercepted twice.
Smith scored on an 80-yard run against Notre Dame to rally BC a week ago, and he came through again against Syracuse with a 53-yard run down the right side to the 9-yard line in the third quarter. Rouse scored on the next play to narrow the Orange lead to 17-14.