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Saturday, Sep 01, 2018 at 12:46 am

Eric Dungey Overpowers Western Michigan in Season Opener

By Matthew Wieselthier

Sports Director

KALAMAZOO, MI — Two minutes were gone in the first quarter when Syracuse’s offense first took the field from its own 41-yard line. Four plays and 59 yards later, Jamal Custis danced into the end zone for SU’s first score of 2018. The first drive took just 1:16.

That lightning offensive production continued for SU in a dominant first half, as Dino Babers led his men into the locker with a comfortable 34-7 lead.

Yet, as Syracuse ran out of the locker room for the final 30 minutes, so did their intensity in the game. Redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito made his highly anticipated debut with just over three minutes left in the first half, and his performance was less than memorable.

With DeVito under center, the SU offense stalled.  At that same time, the WMU offense caught fire.  Almost instantaneously, the Broncos trailed just 34-28 midway through the third quarter.

Reenter Eric Dungey. The senior led 11 drives for the Orange.  The first nine possessions led to 7 touchdowns and two field goals.  The tenth drive stalled inside the 5-yard-line and SU couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone. Instead of running up the score on their last possession, the Orange (1-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) watched the clock bleed out on the Broncos (0-1, 0-0 Mid-American) to win their fifth straight season opener.

“Dungey carries a lot of weight and people have to play him differently than everyone else,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “When you talk about a guy whose been behind the center for four years, he’s started four seasons, he’s got too much experience; he’s hard to get fooled on coverages, he’s hard to get fooled on blitzes. Most of the time we are going to be in the right play, and when we are in the right play, we have a chance for success.

As a fourth-year starter and leader of this SU team, Dungey couldn’t stand the fact that he was standing idly by as WMU clawed back from a 27-point halftime deficit.

“You know, I love to win and I want to do everything I can do to win.  When it started to get close, I was in [Dino] Babers’ ear.  He was probably getting annoyed with me but I really wanted to get back in there.” Dungey said after a day that he totaled 384 yards of total offense.  “I understand what he was doing, trying to get Tommy [DeVito] looks in a game like this but at the end of the day, I want to win.”

For Dungey and company, the positives to take from this game are obvious.  For just the third time since Babers took over the program, Syracuse managed to win outside the Carrier Dome.  Dungey set a new SU quarterback rushing record with 200 yards on the ground. The first half couldn’t have been much more dominant for the Orange.

Still, it was more the way that the team kept fighting in the third quarter struggles to make it to the fourth that got Dino Babers most excited.

“I was disappointed because we talked about this at halftime, it talks about your team growing and what we needed to do to put the game away and we did exactly the opposite which was to let the team back into the game,” Babers remarked after watching his team squander its great first half.  “But the fortitude that they turned around with and how they took over the fourth quarter, when we put our four fingers up, and it’s all about us and our conditioning.  And for them to go in and take that game back, take any hope that [Western Michigan] had of winning that game in the fourth quarter…I’m really proud about the way they battled back.”

As for Dungey, he may have found a lot of success with his legs but struggled through the air.  The senior went just 7-19 for 184 yards throwing the ball.  Most of his receivers didn’t help out the cause. Jamal Custis was the only SU wide receiver to make a catch on the day.  All other passes went to running backs and tight end Ravian Pierce. It wasn’t just one catch though for Custis.  The redshirt senior came into the day with just 142 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his career.  On Friday, he snagged six grabs for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a one-handed catch on a throw that was behind him just outside the redzone.

After the breakout senior seasons of Amba Etta-Tawo and Steve Ishmael in the past two years respectively, Custis may now find himself in a place to become the next big Dungey target.

“It does cross my mind,” Custis said on the idea of being the next big SU receiver.  “I still talk to those guys, and they kind of expect a lot from me.  I played with those guys and they’ve seen how I play.  So they kind of put that pressure on me but I just want to be a leader for my group.”

The other biggest concern for SU will once again be the health of Eric Dungey.  With 12 minutes left in the first half, Dungey used a stiff arm to shove a defender to the ground and work his way down to the 1-yard-line.  Dontae Strickland reaped the rewards with a touchdown on the very next play, but Dungey wasn’t at 100%.  He began getting stretched out on the sidelines, throwing practice tosses while showing clear discomfort.  He then entered the pop-up SU medical tent for further treatment.  The moment Syracuse got the ball back and was going to start their next possession, Dungey emerged and sprinted onto the field.  After halftime, his upper arm was taped up with flesh colored tape, though he did not appear to have any throwing issues.

Later on in the fourth quarter, Dungey was tackled awkwardly on a run and came up limping.  SU burned a timeout and stretched the senior out again, this time with a leg issue.  After the timeout, Dungey was once again back on the field.

Syracuse will get a week to practice on the passing game, as well as third-quarter defense, as they prepare for their home opener against Wagner next Saturday.  And while they know there is a lot to work on, the Orange got exactly what they wanted in Kalamazoo: a big early season win on the road in the search for a first bowl appearance since 2013.

@mcwiesel6 | mwieselthier@citrustv.net