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Defense comes through for Syracuse

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SYRACUSE — All season long, the Syracuse University football team’s offense has put up big numbers, only to be let down by the defense.

But that wasn’t the case in the Orange’s Big East Conference opener on Friday night.

Brandon Sharpe came through with four sacks and six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and Syracuse held the potent Pittsburgh running game to just 27 net yards in a 14-13 victory in front of 40,394 fans at the Carrier Dome.

“I think it was a statement game,” Sharpe said.

It was the Orange’s first conference win since Oct. 21 of last year, and its first victory over Pittsburgh since 2004.

“I am happy that we won, but I do understand that we have a lot of work to do,” said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, who improved to 4-1 after a bye week.

Cornerback Brandon Reddish, who wasn’t cleared to return from a lower-body injury until Thursday, came up with a crucial sack with six minutes left to knock Pittsburgh out of field goal range.

Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and then Pittsburgh punted the ball to Syracuse, which ran out the clock to get the win and improve to 2-3 overall and 1-0 in the conference.

“He was injured and he told us that he was available if we needed him, and we needed him,” Marrone said of Reddish.

Dyshawn Davis scooped up a first-quarter fumble and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown that gave the Orange an early 14-0 lead.

Offensively, after driving down the field and scoring on its first drive, Syracuse was unable to get anything going.

Quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for a season-low 185 yards, and the offense was held to 305 total yards, also a season low.

But this time, it was the defense that picked up the slack.

Sharpe’s four sacks and seven total tackles were both career highs. It is also tied for the second-highest single-game sack total in school history.

The Panthers were averaging 187.5 rushing yards per game entering Friday night. They averaged 0.7 yards per carry in Friday’s game.

“We certainly didn’t want to abandon it,” Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst said of his rushing attack. “We thought that we could get some things. You change it, you figure out ways you can do it and I felt like they did a heck of a job playing the run.”

The Orange opened with an eight-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Adonis Ameen-Moore, showcasing the team’s new goal-line package installed during the bye week.

It was the first carry of the season for the sophomore running back, who missed the first four games due to injury.

Ameen-Moore also sealed the game by picking up four yards on a 3rd-and-3 play with the clock winding down.

“I don’t think I’ve scored a touchdown since I was in 12th grade, so I was definitely happy about that,” Ameen-Moore said.

Syracuse will play at nationally-ranked No. 22 Rutgers next Saturday, and will host Connecticut in another prime-time game at the Carrier Dome on Friday, Oct. 19.

“It’s great starting the Big East 1-0, we’re first in the conference right now, so the sky is the limit,” said senior left tackle Justin Pugh, who made his season debut after missing the first four games rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery.

nNOTES: Senior wide receiver Marcus Sales recorded his 100th career catch in the third quarter.Sales and teammate Alec Lemon, who has a school-record 150 career receptions, became the first pair of teammates to catch over 100 passes apiece.Lemon caught a pass for the 20th consecutive game, while Sales extended his streak of games with a reception to nine.... Senior safety Shamarko Thomas was involved in a nasty helmet-to-helmet collision with a Pittsburgh player on the Panthers’ final drive. His helmet popped off on the play and he was immediately surrounded by teammates on one knee as the Dome went silent, but Thomas eventually walked off the field under his own power.

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