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Syracuse Stuns Virginia Tech with Last-Minute Touchdown for First ACC Victory

Garrett Shrader runs in a touchdown in Syracuse’s 41-36 win at Virginia Tech.
Garrett Shrader (center, white) runs in a touchdown in Syracuse’s 41-36 win at Virginia Tech.

Syracuse Football came from behind to take down Virginia Tech on the road. WAER’s Kyle Loughran looks into Garrett Shrader’s career day in the Orange’s first ACC win of 2021.

Syracuse football was destined for its fourth consecutive one-possession loss. Until it wasn’t.

The Orange (4-4, 1-3 ACC) rallied late thanks to Garrett Shrader’s heroics to beat Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2 ACC) 41-36 on the road in Blacksburg. The sophomore quarterback took over with the ball at the Syracuse 30 with 1:04 remaining and no timeouts, needing at least a field goal to lead SU past the Hokies at Lane Stadium.

Shrader got more than a field goal. On first-and-10 from the Virginia Tech 45-yard line, Shrader stood in the pocket, took a hit, and connected with freshman receiver Damien Alford for a 45-yard go-ahead touchdown that put the Orange ahead for good.

“I didn’t see the play,” said Shrader. “I heard the stadium kind of quiet [down] which typically means it’s a good thing. They told me we scored and I was just laying there, trying to get my breath back, and once I got it back, it was exciting.”

For Shrader, it capped off his best day in a Syracuse uniform with the sophomore slinging the ball for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air while adding another 174 yards on the ground with 3 more scores. In total, the Mississippi State transfer racked up 410 total yards and 5 touchdowns, both career-high marks.

Aside from the raw numbers, Coach Dino Babers has been impressed by Shrader’s intangibles, like his willingness to take hits in the pocket like he did on the game-winning pass to Alford.

“I look at [Garrett] Shrader and I look at the things he’s done, and I just think he really, really wants to win,” said Babers.

Shrader echoed those thoughts postgame.

“This one felt better [than the hit I took against Clemson last week] because we came out with the win. That was the biggest thing,” said Shrader. “A lot of bumps and bruises, but that’s fine.”

It had been a frustrating afternoon for the Orange up to that point, with no sequence more frustrating for SU than the end of the first half.

Shrader led the Orange 98 yards in just over four-and-a-half minutes to seemingly tie the game at 14 with two minutes left before the break, but then chaos struck. Former Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt had his extra point blocked and returned 97 yards by Dorian Strong for a Hokie defensive point-after conversion, worth two points, making the score 16-13 instead of a 14-14 tie.

Then, Virginia Tech was able to get into field goal range thanks to a 38-yard rush from Raheem Blackshear on the first play of the ensuing drive. John Parker Romo knocked through a 48-yard kick with 1:08 to go in the half to extend the Hokie lead to 19-13.

Once again, Syracuse marched down the field with Shrader’s dual-threat ability. Within a minute, the Orange moved the ball 74 yards to the Tech one-yard line. Coach Babers used his second timeout to stop the clock with eight seconds to go, but was forced to burn his final timeout before the same snap because of personnel confusion.

“We get out there, it was a good call and I think we’re about to score, and we line up wrong,” said Shrader.

After the game, Babers took responsibility for the mix up.

“I’m responsible for everything, so it’s on me,” said Babers. “My hands are on it.”

Syracuse ultimately had to settle for a 19-yard field goal attempt from Szmyt before the half that clanked off the right upright, sending the Orange to the half down six after it was looking like the game would be tied at the break.

Syracuse responded immediately in the second half, though. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Orange advanced down the field, with Shrader taking it in himself from 21 yards out to give SU its first lead of the afternoon at 20-19.

Virginia Tech regained the lead midway through the third quarter with Malachi Thomas punching in his second score of the day from the two, making the score 26-20.

After the teams traded three-and-outs, Syracuse took over at its own 34 with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter, and once again, Shrader led the offense down the field. The sophomore signal-caller ran in his third score of the day from three yards out, giving Syracuse a 27-26 lead with 13:35 to go in the fourth quarter. The drive was aided by a fourth-down conversion on fourth-and-two from the SU 42 late in the third quarter on a nine yard completion to Devaughn Cooper.

Virginia Tech immediately got the lead back on a John Parker Romo 33-yard field goal before forcing another Syracuse punt. Five plays later, Malachi Thomas burst through the line of scrimmage and scored untouched from 47 yards out, giving the Hokies a 36-27 advantage with just over five minutes remaining.

Malachi Thomas rushes for a touchdown. The freshman running back had a career-high 151 rushing yards and his first three touchdowns.
Virginia Tech
Malachi Thomas (center, maroon) rushes for a touchdown. The freshman running back had a career-high 151 rushing yards and his first three touchdowns.

Thomas, a freshman from Hartwell, Georgia, entered the afternoon with a career statline of 11 carries for 48 yards and no touchdowns. He finished the day with a career-high 21 rushes, 151 yards on the ground, and his first three collegiate touchdowns.

Down by two scores, Trebor Pena sparked the Orange with a 51-yard kick return to set up SU at the Virginia Tech 45, and with 2:12 remaining, Shrader found Courtney Jackson in the corner of the endzone from 12 yards out to cut the score to 36-34. Jackson finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.

With Virginia Tech trying to run out the clock, the Syracuse defense was able to force a third-and-seven from the Hokie 47. VT quarterback Braxton Burmeister dropped back to pass and Rob Hanna got home around the right end for a sack and a 10-yard loss.

The Orange took over at their own 30 before Shrader found Alford for six, completing the comeback after a Burmeister Hail Mary was batted away on the final play of the game.

It was a big day on the ground for Syracuse with both Shrader and running back Sean Tucker going over 100 yards rushing. Tucker’s 28-yard score on fourth-and-one in the first quarter put him over 1,000 yards on the season. The Maryland native is the first SU back to do so since Jerome Smith in 2012.

Sean Tucker scores a touchdown versus Virginia Tech. In the win, Tucker went over 1,000 rushing yards on the season
Sean Tucker scores a touchdown versus Virginia Tech. In the win, Tucker went over 1,000 rushing yards on the season.

Next up, Syracuse hosts Boston College (4-3, 0-3 ACC) at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday, October 30 with GZA Countdown to Kickoff starting at 3:00 p.m.