Outside of its 25-yard touchdown pass, Syracuse gained 0 yards during its game-winning drive.
Two unsportsmanlike penalties enforced on the previous kickoff gave the Orange the ball at midfield. Two more penalties called on Purdue’s defense advanced the ball another 25 yards.
Syracuse (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) defeated Purdue (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) 32-29 Saturday in the JMA Wireless Dome. The game featured a potential game-winning drive for Purdue made irrelevant by costly penalties.
It was the second time this season Purdue lost in the last minutes, after losing to the now-14th-ranked Penn State (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) two weeks ago.
In their season opener, the Boilermakers had the chance to prove to the nation they could be a consistent threat, rather than the perpetual underdog “Spoilermakers” — the name the football team has earned for its upsets of highly ranked teams.
Watched by a near sold-out crowd in Ross-Ade Stadium and an additional 3.5 million people tuned into the national broadcast, the Boilermakers couldn’t finish the job against the Nittany Lions.
The Boilermakers, still unranked, traveled to New York to play an undefeated Syracuse, which was looking to prove expectations wrong after being picked to finish last in its division in the ACC Preseason Poll.
Saturday’s game offered both teams a final chance to prove they were legitimate contenders before entering conference play.
Once again, Purdue fell short in the final minute, leaving fans and pundits with countless opportunities to say what should have been done differently.
The Boilermakers had several nearly realized opportunities to change the final result, beginning with their opening drive.
Sixth-year wide receiver Charlie Jones made a toe-dragging catch on third and 16, making it fourth and 3 with 11 yards until the endzone. Head coach Jeff Brohm decided not to settle for the field goal and instead went for the first down. Junior running back Dylan Downing’s run up the middle was stopped a yard short, and Purdue came away from the 12-play drive with 0 points.
Brohm took responsibility for the play call, saying it was a mistake on his part. Brohm said after the game that he thought at the time only a yard or a yard and a half were needed for the first down and called a play that would get that number of yards.
The first Purdue touchdown gave the Boilers just 6 points instead of 7. The edge rusher on the left side of the line got into the backfield untouched and blocked the extra point attempt. Brohm said after the game he thought the kick was low as well.
With three minutes left in the game, fifth-year kicker Mitchell Fineran missed a 41-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 25-25.
“(There were) a lot of costly things that, when you play a good football team, can’t happen,” Brohm said about the special team’s mistakes. “A lot of things to learn from and make sure that we don’t allow to happen again.”
Syracuse got 7 points in the fourth quarter after sixth-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell, while being wrapped up and tackled, threw directly to a Syracuse defensive lineman, who returned the interception for a touchdown.
“I thought I could get it to (senior tight end Payne Durham), and I couldn’t and threw it right to the (Syracuse player),” O’Connell said. “Stupid play. Shouldn’t have done it.”
Purdue’s defense had two interceptions in the first half negated due to penalties. The first would have given the offense the ball in scoring position, and the second would have prevented a Syracuse touchdown.
After Durham scored the lead-gaining touchdown with less than a minute left in the game, the Boilers imploded from penalties. Following Purdue’s extra point, Durham was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for a helmet-to-helmet exchange of words with a Syracuse defender.
“(My penalty) at the end was stupid,” Durham said after the game. “It was something I shouldn’t do as an old guy. (The Syracuse player) was trying to get a retaliation out of me, and it worked. (I) said one thing back to him and the ref threw the flag.”
After Durham was given a flag, Brohm was also given an unsportsmanlike penalty after giving the referee his thoughts on the matter.
“I talked to (Durham); he said he was the one who got pushed,” Brohm said. “I was trying to get an explanation from the head referee, who was standing in the far end zone, and they called another penalty when I was four yards away.”
The two unsportsmanlike penalties forced Purdue to kick off its own 10-yard line, 25 yards back from where it usually would have.
On Syracuse’s drive that started from midfield, the Boilermaker defense stopped the Orange twice on third down, but were penalized on both plays. This gave Syracuse a first down with just 25 yards to go without ever gaining a yard on offense, which it used to score the game-winning touchdown.
Purdue’s next chance to prove it can compete at the top levels of the league comes Oct. 1 in an away game against Minnesota (3-0).
The path to becoming division champs gets much narrower for Purdue should they lose a second conference game. No team with more than two conference losses has won the Big Ten West in the division’s eight seasons of existence.