(via WVU Sports)
ORLANDO – Number 15 West Virginia battled 17th-ranked Syracuse for three quarters, but the Orange made the critical plays in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 34-18 victory in tonight's Camping World Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
It was West Virginia's fifth loss in this event, previously called the Carquest, Champs Sports and Russell Athletic bowls. Two of the losses occurred in Miami.
This was also the Mountaineers' second bowl-game loss to its longtime Eastern rival. In the other meeting, the Orange claimed a 38-14 victory in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
"We fought; we tried," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "That's all I can ask for out of these guys ... just came up a little bit short."
An announced crowd of 41,125 watched a back-and-forth defensive affair for three quarters with the Mountaineers getting the better end of things, thanks to three Evan Staley field goals.
But the Orange, trailing 18-17 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, got a 14-yard Eric Dungey touchdown pass to Triston Jackson to give Syracuse a 24-18 lead.
Then, WVU quarterback Jack Allison, making his first career start, threw high trying to escape pressure and his tipped pass sailed into the arms of Allen Stritzinger, who took the football 20 yards to the WVU 18. An illegal block during Stritzinger's return moved the ball back to the WVU 33.
The Orange drive eventually stalled at the WVU 16 where All-America kicker Andre Szmyt punched in a 34-yard field goal to give Syracuse a 27-18 lead.
Three minutes later, the Orange broke the game wide open when Jarveon Howard squirted in from the 4. Howard's touchdown was set up by Moe Neal's 42-yard reception one play earlier.
Neal saw Dungey under duress and came back to haul in his soft, lofting pass toward in the middle of the field. Neal changed direction, eluding three Mountaineer tacklers to run down the far sideline before he was finally caught from behind by JoVanni Stewart at the 4.
Howard's touchdown run and Szmyt's conversion kick capped Syracuse's 17-point scoring flurry in a span of five minutes to put the game out of reach.
The Mountaineers (8-4) had some success moving the football between the 20s but were unable to come up with explosive scoring plays when they got out into the open or when they neared the red zone.
In the first quarter, Tevin Bush broke loose for a 20-yard gainer before he was hauled down at the Syracuse 15. A delay-of-game penalty and a Ryan Guthrie sack of Allison forced West Virginia to settle for a 28-yard Staley field goal.
A quarter later, Martell Pettaway got free on a first-down run from the WVU 25 to race 51 yards to the Syracuse 24 where he was pushed out of bounds by Tyrell Richards.
On the next play, Allison was sacked by Richards for a loss of 6. Tight end Trevon Wesco's reverse pass to backup quarterback Trey Lowe III fell incomplete, and Kennedy McKoy's third-down run for 11 yards came up five yards short of a first down.
Once again, West Virginia had to settle for a Staley field goal, this one going for 36 yards, to reduce Syracuse's lead to 14-12.
On West Virginia's first offensive possession of the third quarter, an Allison pass to a wide-open Bush netted 34 yards down the far sideline before he was knocked out of bounds by Andre Cisco at the Orange 25.
Two McKoy losses and a short Allison pass to Dominque Maiden forced Holgorsen to bring out Staley a third time. This kick was good for 44 yards, giving the Mountaineers a 15-14 lead.
Following Szmyt's 39-yard field goal, West Virginia appeared to be right back in business when Allison hooked up with freshman Kwincy Hall for 43 yards down the near sideline to the Syracuse 39. Once again, however, the drive bogged down when West Virginia neared the red zone.
An Allison third-and-13 pass intended for freshman Bryce Wheaton fell incomplete, leading to Staley's fourth field goal, a 49-yarder with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
"We just didn't finish drives very well, (that) was probably the biggest thing," Holgorsen said. "They play good defense. They've done that all year. They were a top-10 team in the country in red zone defense."
19912Later in the fourth quarter, when West Virginia was trailing 34-18, David Sills V was left uncovered down the far sideline for a big gainer.
Allison hit the senior at the 25, where he made a move back to the inside in an effort to get into the end zone. But Cisco tripped up Sills V at the 8, and on the next play, he was called for offensive pass interference on a pass intended for Bush in the end zone. The walk off moved the ball back to the 23 and WVU eventually lost the ball on downs at the Syracuse 3 with 3:47 remaining.
That play pretty much summed up the night for West Virginia's offense, minus three key performers in quarterback Will Grier, wide receiver Gary Jennings Jr. and left tackle Yodny Cajuste – all three getting a head start on their professional careers.
Allison completed 17-of-35 passes for 277 yards with an interception, but he was sacked five times and had difficulty eluding oncoming rushers when Syracuse brought pressure.
West Virginia, too, was successful coming after Dungey, especially in the first half when the Mountaineers got to him five times for a loss of 39 yards. But Syracuse was able to keep Dungey clean in the second half, and he took advantage of West Virginia's man coverage in the secondary, which was down starting safety Kenny Robinson Jr. after he was ejected in the second quarter for targeting.
Dungey completed 21-of-30 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown, five of those going to Jamal Custis for 80 yards.
Abdul Adams scored twice on short touchdown runs, and Howard tallied the other Syracuse touchdown with 9:59 left in the game.
West Virginia actually outgained Syracuse 423 to 418, but the Orange had a 24 to 18 advantage in first downs and put up a brick wall whenever the Mountaineers neared their end zone.
Sills V, making his final appearance for West Virginia, caught four passes for a game-high 90 yards. McKoy was the game's top ground gainer with 73 yards on 17 attempts, including a handful of carries from the Wildcat formation.
Junior linebacker David Long was credited with a game-high 14 tackles, including a 1/2 tackle for a loss to tie Johnny Dingle's 19 TFLs made in 2007 for the most in school history.
Tonight's defeat was the third in a row to end the season for the Mountaineers, which had leads heading into the fourth quarter in all three of those losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Syracuse.
"We battled hard all year long and we came up a little bit short. Welcome to big-time football," Holgorsen said.
Syracuse finished its season with a 10-3 mark – the Orange's sixth 10-win season in school history.