Tommy DeVito and the Three Touchdowns – Syracuse escapes North Carolina in double-OT, 40-37.
Give Dino Babers credit where credit is due. With Syracuse down a touchdown to North Carolina five minutes left in the fourth quarter, SU’s head coach made one of the gutsiest calls of his Syracuse coaching career.
His senior quarterback, Eric Dungey, struggled throughout the afternoon in the air and with his decision making, going 17-23 for 225 yards and no touchdowns. Dungey had trouble on the ground by his own lofty standards, rushing for 67 yards and a touchdown. His uncharacteristic performance was just that, uncharacteristic. In his career, Dungey’s has only finished back-to-back games with a quarterback rating sub-90 once in his career, back in 2015 as a freshman.
“He’s a warrior, and you never go to battle without your warriors,” Babers said of Dungey after the game.
But with Babers’ offense straining to generate points late in the fourth quarter, Babers, paused, evaluated his team, then acted. With 5:07 left in the game, Babers sat his warrior down for the day. In Dungey’s place stepped redshirt-freshman quarterback Tommy DeVito.
The decision, and DeVito’s subsequently excellent play, gave Syracuse University the jolt it needed to come back and defeat North Carolina in double-overtime, 40-37. In the fourth quarter and both overtimes, DeVito repeatedly found receivers screaming down the sidelines for chunk gains, including his first play from scrimmage, an absolute dime to wide out Jamal Custis that went for 50 yards. DeVito finished with three touchdowns, 181 yards through the air and a whopping 16 yards-per-completion.
Oh yeah, and his 4-yard strike to the previously injured tight end Ravian Pierce won the game for the Orange.
DeVito’s scintillating performance will give fans plenty of fodder over who should and will start for the Orange next week versus NC State. For Dino Babers, this next decision could define his team’s 2018 season.
But, DeVito’s performance wasn’t without flaw. UNC defensive back Patrice Rene baited DeVito into what could have been a game-ending interception with 54 seconds to play had Syracuse’s defense failed to stop the Tar Heels’ offense on its next possession. The error provided a moment of levity in the swirl of frenetic hype following ‘Cuse’s victory.
It also made Babers decision that much more difficult.
In Baber’s words, DeVito’s status as starting quarterback is “not permanent.” That statement didn’t prevent Jamal Custis, a recipient of a number of those late game bombs, from praising, albeit subdued praising, to the the young signal caller in the post-game press conference.
“It’s going to sound crazy, but this was normal [for DeVito]. Playing with this guy every day in practice and working hard with him in the summer … we knew that he could perform when his time was called.” Custis said.
“I could feel the Dome was buzzing when Tommy went in,” added Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, “but I wasn’t surprised at all.”
The buzz surrounding Dungey-DeVito decision could increase to a roar if a decision is not announced by kick-off next weekend. In all likelyhood, coach Babers will keep his choice under wraps as to gain a tactical advantage over the 16th-ranked Wolfpack (5-1, 2-1 ACC). Riding the hot hand versus a stacked opponent offers different, but not necessarily better, advantages over going with the experienced veteran. But we likely won’t know until game time.
Whether Tommy DeVito takes the field or not, he’s proven he’ll be ready.
“I prepare like I’m the starter so I can always be ready for any given moment, because anything can happen, and sure enough, it did.” he said.
And it might.