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TALLAHASSEE, FL — Florida State’s big-play offense led to a big victory over the Syracuse Orange.
Cam Akers ran for touchdowns of 63 and 54 yards, and Nyqwan Murray caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from James Blackman as the Seminoles held on for a 27-24 victory over Syracuse at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“If you don’t have chunk plays, you’re not going to be a great offense. You can draw it up any way you want,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s like hitting ‘3s’ (in basketball). You can shoot ‘2s’ all day, but you’ve got to have some ‘3s.’”
Incidentally, a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer sealed the win for the Seminoles.
Syracuse drove to Florida State’s 25-yard line with six seconds to play, but senior kicker Cole Murphy’s 43-yard kick sailed wide left as time expired. It was Murphy’s second miss in three tries, and it came on a day when FSU’s Ricky Aguayo made both of his attempts.
“I don’t wish a miss on another kicker,” Aguayo said, “But that was one kick that I really wanted him to miss.”
He did, sending a wave of relief throughout Doak Campbell Stadium and sparking a cathartic celebration in the home locker room.
Not only did the Seminoles (3-5, 3-4 ACC) win at home for the first time this season, but they also took a big step toward both bowl eligibility and the potential for a winning season. FSU owns the nation’s longest active streaks in both categories, and will look for another win next week at No. 4 Clemson.
If the FSU offense that showed up Saturday makes the trip to Clemson, the Seminoles might like their chances.
While their 343 total yards were far from a season high, the way that the Seminoles accumulated those yards – on the ground, and in big chunks – could be a recipe for success.
Highlighted by the three long touchdowns, FSU roughed up the Syracuse defense for six runs of 10-plus yards and three passes of 15 or more.
Akers did most of the heavy lifting in that regard. The freshman carried 22 times for a career-high 199 yards, and added another 18 yards through the air.
Along the way, he became the third-leading freshman rusher in school history (695 yards), surpassing Devonta Freeman (579), Larry Key (602) and Travis Minor (623). Dalvin Cook (1,008) holds the record.
“(He) finished runs, hit the home run,” Fisher said. “He did the home run the right way, not craziness but with good, hard runs. He had an outstanding day. Very proud of him.”
“He reminds me of Dalvin with some of those runs,” added safety Derwin James.
It was an apt comparison, given that Cook had his first 100-yard game at Syracuse in 2014, and became FSU’s all-time leading rusher against the Orange last season.
Akers narrowly missed out on becoming the 14th Seminole to run for 200 yards in a game.
“He’s amazing,” James said. “And he comes to work every day in practice.”
Blackman, meanwhile, finished with 136 yards on 12-of-19 passing, while Murray caught three passes for 60 yards and Keith Gavin added 25 yards on four catches in his return from a leg injury.
Murray’s long TD opened the scoring, and the Seminoles stretched their lead to 14-0 when Akers took a first-down run up the middle, cut to his left and beat the Orange (4-5, 2-3) down the left sideline and into the end zone.
FSU then had several chances to take a bigger lead that, had they cashed in, might have spared all the drama that would follow.
But Syracuse kept things close by holding the Seminoles to just 1 for 11 on third down, and the Orange got a boost when junior quarterback Eric Dungey, who had missed most of the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury, returned midway through the second quarter.
With Dungey back in the huddle, the Orange’s sputtering offense almost immediately kicked into gear. He completed a 47-yard touchdown pass that made it 14-7, then, after Akers answered with his second touchdown, struck for a 34-yard score to Steve Ishmael that made it 21-14 at halftime.
The Orange could have made it closer, but Syracuse coach Dino Babers chose not to kick a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the FSU 4-yard line, and James pressured Dungey into an incompletion.
Babers’ decision would have lasting implications.
“We want to score touchdowns,” Babers said. “If we were tied at halftime, the odds are greatly going into our favor that we are going to win the game in the second half.”
Instead, the Seminoles could keep the Orange at arm’s length while trading field goals throughout the second half. Murphy made a 42-yard kick to get the Orange within four, but Aguayo answered with a 49- and 38-yarder of his own that made it 27-17 midway through the fourth quarter.
“Ricky hit the big field goals,” Fisher said. “(Special teams) was good.”
Dungey, however, would have one more say.
Noticeably limping, Dungey engineered a 14-play, 75-yard drive that he finished with a 3-yard touchdown run that cut FSU’s lead to three.
Babers then opted for an onside kick, despite having 2:54 on the clock and three timeouts. That’s when the game took a turn befitting of Florida State’s topsy-turvy 2017 season.
James recovered the kick, but FSU’s offense, needing a couple first downs to run out the clock, couldn’t get anything going.
And things nearly took a disastrous turn when Blackman and center Alec Eberle mishandled the snap on third-and-1. The play was initially ruled a fumble that Syracuse recovered at its own 44-yard line, but replay officials determined that Blackman had possession of the ball with his knee on the ground.
FSU’s Logan Tyler then punted to the Syracuse 18 with 1:23 remaining.
Given all the heartbreak the Seminoles endured at home this season – both Louisville and Miami beat the Seminoles with last-second scoring drives – it was hard not to feel a little tense when Dungey took over.
That tension only increased when Dungey started the drive with a 21-yard scramble, then added completions of five, 15, 16 and nine yards to the FSU 25.
The similarities between this, Louisville and Miami were so stark that a reporter asked Fisher about it after the game.
“It could have been a carbon copy of the Louisville game,” the reporter said.
“But,” Fisher answered, “it wasn’t.”
Not this time.
Josh Sweat’s pressure forced an incompletion on third down, the Orange could move no closer, and Murphy’s kick wasn’t close.
“How I see it, this is a great turning point,” FSU defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. “There’s no turning back from here. We’ve got to keep moving forward. Got to keep pushing.”