SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Wagner football team left Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome with a zero on the scoreboard Saturday, but far from empty-handed.
At least, that was the perspective offered by Seahawks coach Walt Hameline after the Orange thrashed his team in every facet of the game in a 54-0 win.
“At the end of the day it was a great opportunity for our program,” said Hameline, whose FCS squad dropped to 1-2. “You don’t want to come in and get landslided like we did, but at the same time it’s something the kids will remember. It helped recruiting. Hopefully you can learn from it and move on.”
Lesson No. 1: Try to avoid scheduling a major program that needed some vengeance after dropping its first two games of their season.
The Orange (1-2) outgained Wagner 595-87 and limited the Seahawks to five first downs. Seahawks quarterback Matt Misley was just 4 of 11 with one interception and 11 yards, and running back Dominque Williams netted 34 yards on 17 carries.
“It wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t enough,” Williams said. “Nothing surprised us. They were physical and we shot ourselves in the foot. Against a team like that you can’t make mistakes because they’ll capitalize. This turned out to be a tune-up for them and a wake-up call for us.”
SU sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt ignited Syracuse with five first-half touchdown drives, and overall he completed 15 of 18 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
Syracuse’s Jarrod West caught five balls for 147 yards and a score, and Jerome Smith ran for two touchdowns.
The win was a product of what Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer described as an extra hard week of practice, one where his team’s frustration over losses to Penn State and Northwestern to start the season sometimes spilled into testiness.
“I wanted to win this pretty clean (in all aspects of the game),” Shafer said. “I think, for the most part, we were fairly clean today.”
Syracuse, which led 37-0 at halftime, gave Shafer his first win as the Orange’s head coach. The coach choked up a little when describing his celebration with his son right after the game.
“I didn’t think about it too much until they dumped the Gatorade on me,” Shafer said. “It feels great. Let’s get No. 2 as soon as possible.”
The pressing question now is who will be calling the signals for the Orange when it hosts Tulane next week.
Shafer said during the week leading up to Saturday’s game that both quarterback Drew Allen, who started Syracuse’s first two games this season, and backup Hunt would get some action during the contest.
To be fair to Allen, Shafer pointed out that he took the stage against two Big Ten teams, while Hunt had lined up against Wagner. Allen was 8 of 11 for 62 yards and a touchdown pass against the Seahawks.
“I think we can win with both of those kids,” Shafer said. “I love the hell out of Terrel. But you always have to be careful. It’s never as good as it seems. It’s never as bad as it seems. Somewhere in between is the reality. You have to be careful looking against the talent level you are going against.”
After Allen took the first three series of the game and came up with only three points to show for it, Hunt got the nod with 7:07 left in the opening quarter.
Hunt immediately led a 12-play, 68-yard charge down the field, capped by a 2-yard run by Smith around the left side. After a missed extra point, Syracuse led 9-0.
On his next chance, Hunt needed just three plays to push the Orange 64 yards into the end zone. Taking over on the SU 36, Hunt hit West for 42 yards down to the Wagner 22. A holding penalty moved back Syracuse, but that just added to the challenge. Hunt then found running back Prince-Tyson Gully on a sideline route for a 30-yard score and a 16-0 Syracuse cushion with 14:01 remaining in the second quarter.
“I think he threw the ball real well,” Hameline said of Hunt. “He’s real mobile and athletic. As the clock ticks you can run the football and you can run the read stuff with him. He’s a big factor. That can really slow people down on blitzes.”
Following another three-and-out by the Wagner offense, SU took over on its 41. Hunt maneuvered those 59 yards in eight plays, ending with an 8-yard rush by Smith around the left side to make it 23-0.
“I think the (final) score speaks for itself,” Hameline said. “Along with that, the statistics speak for itself. When you look at it from an offensive standpoint, they threw it on us and came up with a lot of big plays.”
After another cameo appearance by the Seahawks offense, Hunt and his teammates trotted out for another romp starting on the Wagner 49. Running back Devante McFarlane got in on the fun by supplying the topper on that six-play drive, churning 3 yards around left end for his first career touchdown and a 30-0 Syracuse lead with 5:34 left in the half.
Hunt finished the first 30 minutes with a flourish, moving the Orange 73 yards in six plays against the beleaguered Wagner defense. Looking at a second-and-10 at the SU 27, Hunt found West on an 18-yard slant and then drilled a ball to Jeremiah Kobena for 11 yards.
Two plays later, Hunt dropped a beauty of a ball into the hands of Christopher Clark for a 41-yard scoring strike with 2:20 left before intermission.
Hunt hit West with a 65-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter for his final scoring toss of the day.
It was an emotional day for West, who learned earlier in the day that his grandfather had passed away. West said a prayer in the end zone before the game and told his grandfather he’d meet him there.
Hunt said he didn’t want to get caught up in the issue of whether he should take over as the Orange’s No. 1 quarterback after losing that job to Allen in the preseason.
“I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “I’m just maximizing my opportunities. I’m more worried about the team than myself. I’m going to keep pushing him. He’s going to keep pushing me.”
The announced attendance for SU’s 2013 home debut was 33,299, although the actual crowd looked to be several thousand fewer.