TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Seminoles hit big plays early then held on late for a 27-24 win over Syracuse that could have lasting implications for the rest of the season. Here’s a look at the game’s key players and decisive moments:
Game ball: There’s just something about the Syracuse Orange that brings out the best in FSU’s running backs. Dalvin Cook torched the Orange in 2014 and 2016, and Jacques Patrick did the same in 2015. On Saturday, it was Cam Akers’ turn. The freshman logged career highs in carries (22) and yards (199) while scoring two long touchdowns that lifted the Seminoles to a 27-24 victory.
It was a startling return to form for Akers, who had been held mostly in check in FSU’s last two games. But by the time this one was over, Akers had placed his name among some elite company, with the third-most rushing yards by a freshman in school history. Akers has 695, while all-time leader Dalvin Cook had 1,008 in 2014. And with potentially five games left to play, Akers could continue to climb.
“He finishes every run in practice,” safety Derwin James said. “I wasn’t surprised.”
The national media took notice, too: ESPN’s College Gameday wrap-up show awarded Akers a “helmet sticker” as one of the day’s top performers. He’ll likely have a few new tomahawk stickers on his helmet next week as well.
Honorable mention goes to specialists Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler, each of whom contributed to the win with strong performances of their own. Aguayo made his only two field-goal attempts – from 49 and 38 yards – while Tyler booted three 50-plus yard punts and placed four punts inside the Orange’s 20-yard line.
Play of the game: Take your pick of Akers’ long touchdown runs. He flashed his athleticism on the first, a 54-yarder in which he juked Syracuse linebacker Parris Bennett to his knees before racing down the left sideline. And he later used pure speed to run 63 yards, first through the heart of the Syracuse defense and then back across the length of the field, for a touchdown that made it 21-7.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 4, 2017
Turning point: There were several key moments to choose from, but Syracuse coach Dino Babers’ decision to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-3 from the FSU 4-yard line late in the second quarter sticks out. Babers defended the call after the game, saying that the Orange wanted to be aggressive and go for the win. But those three points sure would have come in handy at the end of the fourth quarter, when the Orange trailed by three. Instead, FSU’s Derwin James blew up Syracuse’s fourth-down attempt before it could develop, and Syracuse walked away with nothing. Even better for the Seminoles, the play came just moments after the Orange recovered a fumbled punt return at the FSU 11-yard line. It was FSU’s only turnover of the game.
It was over when: Cole Murphy’s 43-yard field goal missed to the left as time expired. In a season filled with heartbreaking, late losses, Murphy’s miss gave FSU a reprieve with a kick that never had much of a chance. Had he made it, the Seminoles would’ve played in their first overtime since beating Clemson in 2014.
“Unfortunate for (Syracuse),” Fisher said. “I hate to say that. I love our team, but I feel for their kicker. I hate when that happens for a kid, because he’s got parents and things, too. He made some good kicks in the day.”
Not that the Seminoles are likely to apologize any time soon. They knew the feeling, having already been on the wrong end of difficult home losses to NC State, Miami and Louisville.
To finally have a different outcome was a welcome sight.
“As a coach, you love seeing that look on your players’ faces,” Fisher said. “You love to see the joy in their eyes when they succeeded, had something good happen to them.”