Tigers hold on as Syracuse rally goes wide left in Carrier Dome


by - Staff Writer -
Joseph Ngata makes the catch for the touchdown. (Photo: Ken Ruinard / USATODAY)
Joseph Ngata makes the catch for the touchdown. (Photo: Ken Ruinard / USATODAY)

SYRACUSE, NY – The Cardiac Cats strike again.

Once again, Clemson’s defense and special teams did just enough to hang on as No. 25 Clemson (4-2 overall, 3-1 ACC) defeated Syracuse (3-4, 0-3 ACC) 17-14 at the Carrier Dome Friday night.

Syracuse took over on its own seven-yard line with 4:40 to play and converted three third downs and a fourth down to set up a 48-yard field goal attempt by Andre Szmyt, who left the kick well short of the goalposts with 38 seconds remaining to seal the Tigers’ victory.

Clemson won its eighth game against Syracuse and its first game on a Friday since 2016 against Boston College.

"First of all, got to give a lot of credit to Syracuse," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "Those kids played their tails off as they have all year. They are three plays away from being six and one, two overtimes and then obviously the last play game here tonight. Then you got to give Dino his staff and those kids a ton of credit. They just keep battling and keep battling. So I know it's a tough loss for them. And then for our guys, we've had four, one-possession games in a row. I don't know when the last time we had four, one-possession games in a row, and we're 3-1 in those. So the positive is we're finding a way to win, but really making it hard on ourselves with so many things that we control."

Swinney said the Tigers are not playing clean.

"The positive is we are finding a way to win, but really making it hard on ourselves with missed plays, critical penalties, things we control," Swinney said. "Our kids battled, you have to give them credit. We are just not a very clean team right now. Defensively, disappointed in how they ran the ball in the first half, but we did a good job stopping the run in the second half. We fit our gaps better. We have a lot of work to do, but we've won two in a row and we have some momentum.

"I thought D.J. played his best game tonight. I thought he played really well. Him doing his job, he played his best job tonight. We have 14 scholarship players that are unavailable right now."

Clemson improved to 29-1 in October games in the College Football Playoff era (since 2014), with the lone October loss coming against Syracuse in 2017.

Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei finished the game 21-of-34 for 181 yards and a touchdown. He added 11 carries for 26 yards. Justyn Ross had five catches for 51 catches, while Davis Allen added eight catches for 49 yards, the most catches by a Clemson tight end since Jordan Leggett in the 2016 national championship game against Alabama.

Kobe Pace led all Clemson rushers with 14 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. Phil Mafah carried the ball nine times for 30 yards.

Tyler Venables recorded his first career interception when he picked off a Garrett Shrader pass at the six-yard line and returned it seven yards out to the 13-yard line.

Clemson took over after the interception with just over a minute to play in the first quarter. The Tigers marched down the field in 12 plays and took nearly seven minutes off the clock on a drive that was capped off by a 19-yard highlight-reel touchdown catch by Joseph Ngata to give Clemson a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.

On the legs of Sean Tucker, Syracuse answered with a touchdown of its own. Tucker carried the ball four times for 51 yards on the drive, including a 39-yard scamper to the two-yard line. The defense collapsed on Tucker on the first-and-goal play as Shrader walked in the endzone untouched to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:33 to play in the first half.

Clemson took over with 2:06 to play before halftime only to have its drive stifled at the Syracuse 41 yard line, but punter Will Spiers came in to save the day and hit tight end, Davis Allen, down the sideline for a 17-yard pickup and a first down on the 24-yard line. On third-and-10 Uiagalelei hit Ajou Ajou for 11 yards to move the chains. After a holding call on and facing second-and-14, Justyn Ross nabbed a pass at the two-yard line to set up a Kobe Pace plunge in the endzone to give Clemson a 14-7 lead at halftime.

It's the second straight season in which Will Spiers has converted a fourth down on a fake punt against Syracuse. A year ago, Spiers rushed for six yards and a first down on a fake against the Orange.

The teams traded possessions during the third quarter with neither offense finding much success.

Clemson didn’t breakthrough in the second half until 9:22 mark in the fourth quarter on a 40-yard BT Potter field goal. The Tigers took on their own 31 and Uiagalelei hit Beaux Collins for a 23-yard gain and Pace carried the ball twice for 19 yards to set up the field goal and give Clemson a 17-7 lead.

On the ensuing possession, the Tigers thought they had Syracuse stopped on third down but Shrader let the ball fly and found Trebor Pena for a 62-yard touchdown to cut Clemson’s lead to 17-14 with 7:18 to play.

Clemson goes on the road next week to take on Pittsburgh in a 3:30 matchup. This will be the first time the Tigers have played at Heinz Field since the Panthers joined the ACC.


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