Sunday, November 10, 2002

Syracuse topples No. 8 Virginia Tech in 3OT

By John Kekis
The Associated Press

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Syracuse appeared to be on its way to a rare and dubious distinction just one month ago - winning 10 games one season and losing 10 the next. A three-game winning streak has changed all that.

Freshman Damien Rhodes scored on a 25-yard run and ran for the 2-point conversion in the decisive third overtime Saturday as the Orangemen pulled off a dramatic 50-42 victory over No. 8 Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech (8-2, 3-2 Big East) lost despite 504 yards passing and a school-record five touchdown passes from Bryan Randall. Randall's yardage total was the second-best in school history, behind Don Strock's 527-yard performance against Houston in 1972.

It was another big win for Syracuse (4-6, 2-3).

"To beat Virginia Tech at home, when everyone else had given up on you, this was like a bowl game for us," Syracuse tight end Joe Donnelly said. "To come back in a game like this, that's a big test of character."

Tech's chance to tie the game ended when Maurice McClain intercepted Randall's pass in the left corner of the end zone, sending the near-sellout crowd into a frenzy.

The Hokies, who lost to Pittsburgh last week, cannot win the league and lost any chance of going to a BCS bowl game.

"We just couldn't get it done," said Tech coach Frank Beamer, who is 1-6 in the Carrier Dome. "But give Syracuse credit. They found a way to win at the end."

Randall was 23-for-35 passing and Ernest Wilford had eight catches for a school-record 279 yards and four TDs.

After the scoreless first overtime, Randall's 1-yard run gave the Hokies a 42-35 lead, and they seemed ready to celebrate when Syracuse faced fourth-and-goal from the 6. But Troy Nunes hit Donnelly in the back of the end zone to force the third extra period.

The teams combined for 1,163 yards on 160 plays. Nunes was 24-for-40 for a career-high 403 yards and one touchdown. Both quarterbacks were intercepted three times, with Garnell Wilds getting all three for Tech to tie a school record.

"We took what they gave us," said Randall, who combined with Wilford on scoring passes of 75, 34, 87, and 5 yards. "There wasn't a doubt in our minds that we couldn't move the ball through the air."

Both teams like to run, but they decided early that passing was the way to go on this day.

Although he did not score in the seesaw game, which had five lead changes, Syracuse wideout David Tyree had nine catches for 229 yards to key two touchdown drives. He also blocked a punt in the second quarter - his third block in three years against the Hokies - that set up the Orangemen's first touchdown.

His 62-yard reception set up a 3-yard scoring run by Rhodes that tied the game at 35 only 18 seconds after Tech took the lead.

"It should have been a blowout from my perspective because we didn't finish our drives," Tyree said. "But at no point did we get our heads down and say, 'Oh no, this is Virginia Tech, we're not going to win.' "

Walter Reyes rushed for 118 yards and three TDs for Syracuse, giving him a school-record 15 touchdowns rushing this season. The old record of 14 was held by Floyd Little and James Mungro.

Reyes was injured midway through the fourth quarter after a 30-yard gain, putting the load on the shoulders of Rhodes, and he responded. Rhodes finished with 67 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies had lived by the run all season behind Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones, who together were averaging 185 yards rushing per game. But Jones was out with a sore hamstring, and Tech took to the air and led 14-12 at halftime, netting 167 yards passing and only 1 yard on nine rushing attempts.

Tech finished with 55 yards rushing on 25 carries. Suggs, who caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Randall in the first quarter, led the way with 65 yards on 19 carries and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career.

It was only the third career TD reception for Suggs, who now has 48 TDs and at least one in each of the 23 games he's started for the Hokies.

Tech, which also lost two fumbles, held the ball for only 22:44, a testament to its quick-strike offense. It took the Hokies only eight plays and 2:22 to go 347 yards and score four of their touchdowns.

Syracuse's modest winning streak, which also includes wins over Central Florida and Rutgers, kept alive the Orangemen's drive to avoid their first losing season since 1986.

"There is tremendous character on this team," said head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who was under fire after the Orangemen began the season 1-6. "You couldn't break their will."

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