SYRACUSE (AP) – Andre Szmyt kicked the winning basket from 35 yards with no time on the clock as Syracuse used a late turnout to defeat Liberty 24-21 on Friday night.
The Syracuse defense made the only turnover of the game – and the first of the season for the Flames offense – just when the Orange needed it most. After the Syracuse defense forced Liberty quarterback Malik Willis to grope the ball with just under four minutes to go, Szmyt converted the turnover into a winning placement seven games later.
“I got a few guys to come over and say, ‘It’s gonna be up to you,’ Szmyt said of his reaction to the turnaround late in the game. “This is my first winning game in four years.
Szmyt’s kick was the Orange’s first winning field goal in the last minute of a game since 2015 and handed the Flames (3-1) their first loss this season.
In Liberty’s read option offense, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Willis ran the ball 17 times for 81 yards and completed 14 of his 19 attempted passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s just a Mack truck,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said of Willis. “Sir. Willis is amazing. He’s the real deal.”
Willis rallied the Flames from a 21-7 deficit in the third quarter to tie the game at 21-all. But the Syracuse defense made two huge games in the fourth quarter.
Liberty had the ball on the Syracuse 2-yard line with eight minutes left. Syracuse stopped Willis on the third down, then Liberty coach Hugh Freeze decided to give it a shot on the fourth down rather than go green.
Syracuse pissed Willis again to get the ball back.
“Analytics said to go for it,” Freeze said. “Obviously, I would like to resume the call when it is not working. I felt like we were putting it in the hands of our best player. They probably knew that too. I hurt for him because no one takes him more than him.
Liberty recovered the ball, forcing Syracuse to strike with 4:21 remaining. But in the Flames’ second game, Syracuse’s Cody Roscoe and Marlowe Wax chased Willis and fumbled for the ball and Syracuse linebacker Mikel Jones recovered at the 30-yard line. It was Syracuse’s sixth sack of the game.
“I had no idea they had pierced,” Willis said. “I’ve never seen them.”
In a surprise move, Babers had inserted Garrett Shrader, a transfer from Mississippi state, as the starting quarterback. Veteran Tommy DeVito started each of SU’s first three games this season.
Shrader only completed six of his 15 passing attempts, but he executed the ball 15 times and scored two touchdowns. But Syracuse’s offense relied on the production of second-year running back Sean Tucker, who rushed 32 times for 169 yards and a touchdown.
Take it away
Liberty: The Flames were on the verge of entering the Top 25 AP and missed a chance for a big win. The Flames could have secured a key victory over a Power 5 conference opponent. The Flames have just one more game against a Power 5 conference team on their schedule. Liberty will play Ole Miss on November 6.
Syracuse: The Orange made a quarterback change, but it’s unclear if they’ve found an answer. While Shrader had his moments on his first start, his inability to connect on deep throws limited Syracuse’s offense.
Liberty: The Flames travel to UAB for a night time game at Protective Stadium on October 2.
Syracuse: The Orange hit the road for their opener against Florida State on October 2.