SYRACUSE — Rex Culpepper represented the Syracuse University football team as game captain on Saturday, signifying his place as no ordinary backup quarterback.
The redshirt senior showed flashes of rewarding the faith of his coaches and teammates in his second career start despite the Orange suffering a 38-21 nonconference loss to FBS independent Liberty at the Carrier Dome.
Culpepper completed 19 of 40 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns to go with an interception in his first start since 2017 in place of injured starter Tommy DeVito.
Culpepper connected with Taj Harris for a 17-yard touchdown to give SU an early 7-0 lead, and found Aaron Hackett off play-action to tie the game at 14 each midway through the second quarter. Culpepper later connected with Anthony Queeley on a 21-yard toss to the back corner of the end zone while in fourth-quarter comeback mode.
Culpepper started hot, completing 5 of 7 passes on the first two Orange drives, and he finished the first half 11-for-20 with 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Orange trailed 28-14 before Culpepper touched the ball in the second half, and his interception came midway through the third quarter.
“The veterans have to play really good, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” SU coach Dino Babers said. “It’s not Rex’s job to win the game, it’s his job to operate the offense, and then the guys that have played a lot more, the guys who have started a lot more, need to play really good games to take the pressure off of him.”
Culpepper survived a testicular cancer diagnosis as an SU sophomore in 2018 and has also played tight end and contributed on special teams in his career. The Tampa, Fla., native is one of seven players remaining from Babers’ first year as SU coach in 2016.
Culpepper’s three scoring passes mark a season high for any SU quarterback, and he recorded the second 200-yard passing performance of the year for SU (1-4 overall, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference).
DeVito was on the sidelines utilizing a scooter to move Saturday with his lower left leg in a bracing after suffering the injury the week prior.
“It was kind of upsetting because that’s your brother, you don’t want to see anyone get hurt on the football team,” said Queeley, the only SU player made available for postgame interviews. “But, Rex, he can get the job done. He practices like he is the starter. He’s the guy and we support him through everything, and I have faith in both of those guys, and really, all of our quarterbacks.”
Babers declined to rule DeVito out for the season when asked after the loss despite reports over the past week.
“The thing about Tommy, whether he’s out two, three, four weeks, we’re not worrying about that,” Babers said. “We want him to come back when he’s healthy, and if he isn’t healthy, then he doesn’t come back. We got other guys that can play quarterback on this team.”