SYRACUSE — Tommy DeVito displayed the arm and pocket presence that Syracuse University football fans had long been expecting during Saturday’s 52-33 victory over Western Michigan in the Carrier Dome, and surprised much of the 40,700 in attendance with the spark he added on the ground.
DeVito finished with 85 net rushing yards on nine attempts — he gained 105 as a runner but lost 20 yards on three sacks — highlighted by a 60-yard burst on the second play of the game and a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
DeVito, who also completed 27 of 35 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns, had never rushed for more than 21 yards in a single game prior to Saturday’s performance. His 60-yard scamper represents the longest rushing play from SU this season.
“I’ve always said in the past, I’m definitely a throw-first (quarterback), but I can run if I have to, and I definitely had to do that today to help the offense move the ball,” DeVito said.
DeVito’s initial burst set up a 23-yard touchdown run by Moe Neal two plays later to give SU (2-2 overall) a touchdown on its opening drive for the first time this season. The 60-yard scoring run early in the second quarter extended the Orange edge to 21-0.
The redshirt sophomore busted through a hole up the middle on his TD burst and ran 36 yards untouched to the end zone. Each play brought the Carrier Dome crowd to its feet and helped kick-start an offense that had averaged just 16.7 points through its first three games, a decrease of 23 points per game off last season’s pace.
DeVito also contributed to SU’s season-high of 258 rushing yards after the team gained just 85 net yards on the ground in its previous two games combined.
DeVito is in his first season as the starter in place of the graduated Eric Dungey, who holds the SU career record for total yards of offense (11,333) and ran for 1,993 yards and 35 touchdowns in his four seasons as the starting QB.
“(DeVito) was really a 100-yard rusher as a running back, but as a quarterback he only ended up with 85, so I guess he needs to run faster if he’s going to get 100 yards,” SU coach Dino Babers said. “It adds a dimension to the offense and that’s what a lot of offenses do now with that quarterback, like Russell Wilson with the Seattle Seahawks, he doesn’t do it much but boy when he does it just breaks the defensive coordinator’s back. It was fun to have that back in our offense. I was really excited about the way he played with his legs to help us win the game.”
Babers added: “Tommy could always run, I’ve tried to tell people that he’s fast and he can run, we just ask him to be very careful when he does it or not to do it. He’s from New Jersey and there are some fast guys from New Jersey, so we’re excited when he does that stuff but he’s under strict orders to protect himself and make sure that after the run, he’s still going to be underneath the center.”
SU senior Sean Riley returned two kicks for 32 yards and became the program’s career leader in kickoff returns (107) and kick return yards (2,299). He eclipsed previous record holder Qadry Ismail in each category, who finished with 105 returns for 2,290 yards from 1989-92.
Riley also hauled in four catches for 31 yards to extend his streak of consecutive games with at least one catch to 16.
The 10th Mountain Division Band from Fort Drum was on hand to play the national anthem for Saturday’s game and to help celebrate SU’s Military Appreciation Day.
Watertown native and U.S. Army Capt. Tim Monczynski was honored as the game’s “Hometown Hero,” and other Fort Drum soldiers participated by holding the large on-field flag during the anthem.
During a second quarter timeout, SU announced a $25 million transformative gift commitment from former player John Lally and his wife, Laura.
SU administrators presented John Lally, who played guard for the Orange from 1977-82, and Laura with a commemorative football to express their gratitude for the donation.