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Syracuse 44, East Carolina 30
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Syracuse Switch-a-roo
Puts Squeeze on Pirates

By Denny O'Brien

Syracuse quarterback Troy Nunes has grown accustomed to criticism — the Carrier Dome "Boo" birds have made certain of that.

But on Saturday, the jeers turned to cheers.

Nunes, who started unexpectedly in place of sophomore RJ Anderson, led a fourth quarter rally that propelled the Orangemen past East Carolina 44-30, giving Syracuse its third straight victory.

The Butler, PA, senior finished the day with 295 yards through the air, completing 17 of 27 passes, including four touchdowns. None of the completions was bigger than his 39-yard fourth-quarter strike to Malik Campbell, which pushed the Orangemen ahead by 14 and nailed the door shut on the Pirates.

The performance marked the first time a Syracuse quarterback has thrown for four scores since Donovan McNabb pulled off the feat against Cincinnati in 1998.

ECU's defense entered yesterday's game with Syracuse on a mission to stop the run, something it hadn't done successfully all season. The Pirates made good on their mission, limiting Syracuse to just 108 yards on 47 carries.

But it was the unlikely heroics of Nunes that told the story, as Syracuse beat East Carolina at its own game. Instead of relying on a ball-control ground game, the Orangemen found success with their own set of "explosion" plays, many of which came on third down.

"Troy Nunes is a great quarterback and a fine athlete," said ECU head coach Steve Logan. "I expected him to throw well and expected to see him because of our commitment to stopping the run."

Syracuse converted 11 of its 18 third-down conversions. The Pirates were true on just 2 of 13.

"I have to commend our front seven," said ECU middle linebacker Pernell Griffin. "We did a great job. That's what we were really wanting to do — we wanted to concentrate on the run.

"They snuck us out with the passing game. They had a couple of big plays that really hurt us. Some of it was due to us not getting pressure on the quarterback, so I don't hang my head low for the secondary."

The Pirates appeared to be in business when quarterback David Garrard found sophomore receiver Marcus White from 29 yards out with 12:22 to play, giving the Pirates a 30-29 lead. On the play, White out-battled a Syracuse defender who was called for pass interference to haul in the perfect strike.

But it would prove to be the last time ECU found paydirt as the SU defense stiffened down the stretch and came up with big plays when needed, perhaps the most important being a key stop of a Garrard option keeper on fourth and two with 5:47 left.

"We didn't make enough plays toward the end," Garrard said. "They (Syracuse) played a great game —  my hat's off to them."

In the final analysis, said the Durham senior, mistakes were the key difference.

"Turnovers are always going to kill you. We had some turnovers and that was the key to the game."

For the day, Garrard completed 17 of 34 passes for 192 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was a performance that could have been much better had it not been for several dropped passes by Pirate receivers.

Garrard also added 54 yards on the ground, but had a costly fourth quarter fumble on third and inches.

"I was in the pile and pretty much down," Garrard said about the fumble. "Guys were clawing for the ball. One guy got his hand in there and the ball came out."

The turning point in the game came at the 12:22 mark, following White's go-ahead touchdown. Instead of kicking it deep, the Pirates audibled to an onsides kick, hoping to catch the Orangemen off guard. The move backfired, however, as Kevin Miller's kick was ruled out of bounds, giving the Orangemen the ball in excellent field position.

"The opportunity was there because of their alignment," Logan said about the onside kick. "We audibled to it. We just didn't execute it. Syracuse is a very, very good football team and they can pretty much determine their own fate."

Nunes would make the Pirates pay, marching his team 46 yards in just four plays, capped by running back James Mungro's six-yard touchdown scamper which put the Orangemen ahead for good. Mungro's run was set up by a 32-yard catch by Campbell on third and two.

"He (Nunes) probably played the best game of his career," said Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni. "He was right on top of the game. He had an outstanding performance."

Despite the loss, the Pirates outgained the Orangemen, piling up 467 total yards to 420. ECU had 275 yards on the ground, highlighted by another dazzling performance by senior running back Leonard Henry, who finished with 177 yards on 14 carries.

Henry's 66-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter closed the Pirates to within three at 20-17.

"We ran the ball well and Henry is a great running back," Logan said. "The presence of our option also makes us tough."

Kevin Miller got the Pirates on the board first, kicking a 43-yard field goal that split the uprights at the 11:07 mark in the first quarter. Miller's boot capped off an 11-play, 53-yard drive that drained 4:30 of game clock.

Syracuse struck next when quarterback Troy Nunes hooked up with Jamel Riddle on a 38-yard scoring pass to push the Orangemen ahead 6-3. An excessive celebration penalty was assessed to Syracuse, which proved costly, as Justin Sujansky missed the point after touchdown attempt.

The seven-play, 70-yard drive was fueled by two third-down conversions in which Nunes found wide-open receivers.

Nunes found his rhythm again on the Orangemen's next possession, directing another seven-play, 70-yard drive, culminated by a four-yard toss off play-action to tight end Jeremie Frazier.

Latroy Oliver's interception of a Garrard pass set up Syracuse's next score, a three-yard toss from Nunes to Maurice Jackson.

The Pirates finally cracked the end zone with two seconds remaining in the opening half when Garrard found tight end Corey Floyd with a two-yard dart to close the deficit to 20-10 at the break.

Garrard was six for nine on the drive, marking the only time the ECU passing game had any rhythm in the first half.

"This was a tough, tough game, but I'm really proud of our players," Logan added. " We just kept playing and eventually things started to roll for us."

On this particular day, though, things started to roll for Nunes and the Orangemen, too, especially in the fourth quarter.

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02/23/2007 01:41:50 AM

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