By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - University of Cincinnati strong safety Doug Monaghan called the play a "heartbreaker." It was also a game-clincher for Syracuse.
After stumbling offensively for most of the afternoon, the mistake-prone Bearcats had finally penetrated the Syracuse end zone on a 2-yard pass from quarterback Gino Guidugli to tight end Brent Celek with 13:41 left in the fourth quarter to slice the Orange's lead to 10-7.
But just as the climbed back into the game, Syracuse stunned them with a 68-yard touchdown pass from Perry Patterson to tailback back Damien Rhodes to spread the lead back to 10.
"I was like, 'You've got be kidding me,' " Monaghan said.
The Orange (2-1) hung on to beat UC 19-7 in its home opener Saturday before 32,893 fans at the Carrier Dome in a preview of what the Bearcats will face when they join Syracuse in the Big East Conference next year.
UC (1-2) has lost seven straight road games since its upset win at West Virginia last year.
For Syracuse, and its embattled coach, Paul Pasqualoni, the victory provided a respite from criticism, at least until they play at No. 12 Virginia next week.
On second-and-8 from the Syracuse 32, Rhodes slipped out of the backfield and found himself wide open, some 10 yards behind linebacker Tyjuan Hagler on the second play from scrimmage following the Bearcats' only score of the afternoon.
Once Rhodes caught the ball there was no help for Hagler, who said he was picked by a Syracuse player.
"We were in a coverage where our safeties were covering down on their tight ends," Dantonio said. "They weren't in the deep part of the field."
The game was sloppily played on both sides, with the Bearcats committing six turnovers and Syracuse three. UC also had a punt blocked out of the end zone for a safety.
"It's disappointing because we had a chance to win the game," Dantonio said. "If we execute, we're able to compete."
UC quarterback Gino Guidugli completed 14 of 25 passes for 155 yards but was intercepted three times.
The Bearcats turned the ball over three times in the red zone. The first was on an interception at the goal line in the first quarter when Guidugli tried to hit George Murray from the Syracuse 18.
"I took a chance, and it didn't work out for me," Guidugli said.
UC blew another scoring opportunity early in the third quarter when Dominic Ross picked up a Walter Reyes fumble and returned it to the Syracuse 5-yard line.
On the next play, Guidugli tripped over a lineman on the center exchange. When he tried to flip the ball to running back Richard Hall as he fell to the ground, Hall fumbled and Syracuse recovered.
"I thought I could reach Richard, and I didn't quite get there," Guidugli said. "I take the blame for that."
Down by 12, the Bearcats were driving again midway through the fourth quarter when they attempted a halfback pass with Mike Daniels from the Syracuse 15. But defensive end James Wyche broke through to disrupt Daniels' pass, the ball floated high into the air and was intercepted by Kelvin Smith with 6:51 to go.
It was that kind of afternoon for UC.
Said Celek: "If we didn't make mistakes, we would have come out with the win easily."