SYRACUSE — Trill Williams made a vow to senior Kendall Coleman early in the season that he would ensure that the Syracuse University football team’s outgoing class would leave in the right manner, and the sophomore defensive back delivered on that promise in thrilling fashion Saturday.
Wake Forest star wide receiver Kendall Hinton caught a pass six yards shy of the end zone in overtime before Williams ripped the ball out of his hands, tucked it away, and ran 94 yards for a touchdown to cap off a wild 39-30 overtime victory for the Orange on senior day in the Carrier Dome.
SU players stormed the field to pile on Williams after the exhilarating score while the announced crowd of 33,719 celebrated the victory, enjoying a much-needed jolt of energy to end a trying year that fell far short of preseason expectations.
“I’m always trying to be around the ball and trying to make a play, and I didn’t have to score but I scored for the seniors going out,” said Williams, a sophomore. “I had to give them something so that when they leave, they’ll remember that play. ... That’s a moment that we’ll never forget. Those are my brothers and I love them and if we could start the season over again, I would happily do it just to be around them again.”
Senior quarterback Clayton Welch surprisingly made his first career start in his final game for SU (5-7 overall, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) and completed 21 of 36 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He led two fourth-quarter scoring drives after leaving the game briefly following a brutal hit from a defender’s helmet to his midsection, and was one of several departing players that strongly contributed to the win.
Senior running back Moe Neal ran for 98 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown run that gave SU a 27-20 advantage with eight minutes left.
Hinton then caught a two-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Sam Hartman — starter Jamie Newman left with an injury in the second quarter — on a 4th-and-goal play for the Demon Deacons (8-4, 4-4) to tie the game back up at 27 with 4:12 remaining.
SU sophomore kicker Andre Szmyt booted a 49-yard field goal to put SU back in front, 30-27, with 44 seconds left, but Wake Forest responded by quickly driving into position for its standout sophomore kicker, Nick Sciba, to connect on a 43-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.
“For the offense and the wide receivers, this game was just to do it for the people that have been here the longest and for the seniors to go out on a good note,” said junior wide receiver Trishton Jackson, who hauled in 10 catches for 111 yards, including a 12-yard TD catch.
Szmyt made a 40-yard field goal to give SU the early edge in the extra period, 33-30, and Williams came through with the 94-yard fumble return on the ensuing Wake possession to punctuate the victory.
Coleman said that he thought back to his early-season discussion with Williams as he watched him sprint downfield in the decisive moment.
“I walked up to him and spoke to him about making sure he was putting in all the work and doing the right things to take the next step forward in his development in being the awesome player that he is,” Coleman said. “I didn’t mean it in this aspect but he responded to me with: ‘Don’t worry, we won’t let you go out the wrong way.’ When that play happened, that was the first thought that came into my mind. He held true to his word. He didn’t let us go out the wrong way.”
SU’s defense forced five turnovers, including four in the first half to help build a 17-6 halftime advantage. Four of SU’s top five tacklers were seniors – Lakiem Williams (11), Christopher Fredrick (10), Alton Robinson (10) and Coleman (9). Robinson also supplied a sack and Fredrick hauled in an interception. Star sophomore safety Andre Cisco recorded an interception and a fumble recovery to go with his nine tackles.
Hartman finished 25 of 42 for 350 yards and two TD passes, including a 75-yard score to Donovan Greene to tie the game at 20 points apiece in the third quarter.
The Orange became the third FBS team to win an overtime game by more than eight points and the first since Clemson beat Duke, 29-20, in November 1997.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t meet the expectations of everyone, we really, really tried, but we didn’t get it done,” SU coach Dino Babers said. “But to have a situation where we could send those young men out as winners, and the young men rallied to play for something when a lot of people thought we had nothing to play for, it just shows how close those guys truly are.”