Syracuse football shocks Virginia Tech, 41-36 with late touchdown pass from Garrett Shrader to Damien Alford


Blacksburg, Va. — All the familiar notes of this Syracuse football season were struck and scattered through 60 minutes of another week of heart palpitations, coaching anguish and, finally, euphoria.

Syracuse’s dynamic backfield of Garrett Shrader and Sean Tucker both were great. The special teams weren’t.

The scoring margin, again, was razor thin, this time a thrilling 41-36 victory at Virginia Tech on Saturday afternooon at Lane Stadium that came when Shrader delivered a deep ball — and absorbed a huge hit — to Damien Alford for a 45-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in regulation.

It all nearly took a backseat to another pivotal coaching miscue by Dino Babers and his staff that is becoming as habitual as this exceptional run of five-straight games decided on, essentially, the final possession of the game.

Every week, it seems, there is some coaching move to question and complain about. Incredibly, every week, it seems it almost always shakes out as the difference between winning and losing games.

On this day, an end-of-half sequence nearly overshadowed Shrader’s five-touchdown day and Tucker’s latest milestone dash.

Chaos reigned late in the second quarter, after Shrader ran to the 1-yard line with eight seconds remaining and Babers calling his second timeout to stop the clock.

Confusion with the personnel package out of the timeout led Babers to use another timeout — his final timeout — when wide receiver Courtney Jackson ran onto the field late.

Syracuse then tried a quick fade to Alford in which he couldn’t locate the ball.

On the next play, just before Shrader tried to sneak the ball over the goal line, Virginia Tech called a timeout, sending Syracuse’s field goal unit onto the field with five seconds left.

Andre Szmyt’s 19-yard attempt doinked off the right upright, ending a dreadful sequence that resulted in no points and a 19-13 halftime deficit.

The sequence continued the disorganization, dysfunction and lack of preparation found at key junctures throughout the team’s three-game losing streak that was snapped with Saturday’s win.

It led to more special teams woes for one of seven schools in the Power Five that don’t employ a special teams coordinator.

It has all threatened to torpedo a historic season by Tucker, who became the first in the country to reach 1,000 yards this season on a 28-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and the first Syracuse back to reach the milestone since Jerome Smith in 2012.

And, it nearly became another timeless moment in a series that can be distilled down to the names and plays — Freeney’s five sacks, McNabb to Brominski, DeAngelo Hall’s two punt return scores — that become seared in our minds over the years.

Instead, Shrader to Alford took up that mantle, making that the exclamation point on what was far from a banner day prior to that.

An extra point was blocked after Shrader’s 9-yard touchdown run with 1:54 before the half. Dorian Strong, naturally, wearing No. 44, returned it 95 yards for two points, turning a potential 14-14 game into a 16-13 lead.

The play got former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, best known for his affinity for strong special teams units, out of his seat and clapping.

On the ensuing drive, kicker John Parker Romo extended the Hokies’ lead to 19-13 on a 48-yard field goal less than a minute later with a strike that might have been good from 58 yards out.

That partially underscored the difference between these two teams and coaching staffs on this day, with more evidence lurking around the corner on the final drive of the half.

Thankfully, it’s not the only thing everyone will remember.

Contact Nate Mink anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-430-8253

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