So Quickly, a Turning Point for the Young Orange

Sep 10, 2015

Not in any Syracuse football fan's worst nightmare would this happen.

First quarter of the home opener and there's starting quarterback Terrel Hunt, the fifth-year senior. He's fresh from a season of watching from that broken fibula suffered in the fifth game, and recuperating and assistant-coaching the youngsters and working his butt off to get back to lead the Orange. He's a little shaky, sure, an interception, and not clicking on another pass against these FCS Rhode Island Rams coming in off a one-win season. But it's early.  

Terrel Hunt, at quarterback for the Orange.
 Then the burly guy tucks the ball in, heads left, and runs. Nobody's near him on the new, shockingly green Carrier Dome turf, it seems, when Hunt stumbles and goes down. He gets up but goes down again. The fans, announced at 30,112 on this warm first Friday night in September, grows even more quiet. Moments pass as trainers and coaches circle their man among boys. When he rises to leave the field, he does not put any weight on that leg, The Leg, the same one he broke last season. He would not return. Later, much, word would come out that Terrel Hunt injured his Achilles tendon. Serious, very. He will miss the rest of this season.

True freshman quarterback Eric Dungey, less than 12 months from leading high school kids on fields in his home state of Oregon, got the Syracuse Orange together enough to beat Rhode Island 47-0 after he replaced snake-bit Hunt. He looked good, truth be told. His stats were solid enough, too: 10 of 17 passes completed for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, a nice start to a career.  

Terrel Hunt, led off the field for the last time this season.
 But at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest will be on the other side of that bright green Carrier Dome field, starting the Atlantic Coast Conference season. Nobody will mistake Wake for once-removed-from-its-national-title-but-still-playoff-qualifier Florida State or fellow Atlantic Division rival Clemson. In fact, mired in last year's 3-9 mess of a season, the Orange's lone league win came Oct. 18 at Wake Forest by the score of 30-7. But they will be better than the Rams, that is certain.

So Syracuse fans now must think hard about that nightmare play, and what it means in the big picture.

Is this a chance to see if a young man by the name of Dungey is better than AJ Long, Austin Wilson and Mitch Kimble, who jumped in to replace Hunt at various points last season? Is this a chance to see if he's even better than Hunt? Could be, you know. And how about freshman running back Jordan Fredericks, the young man from Long Island, who gained 103 yards on 14 carries and rushed for a touchdown while revolving with others in the opener? Does his  prominent role mean that Coach Scott Shafer and his staff, now in season three, are truly bringing in better players every year while the national publications put him on that list topped with the headline Hot Seat? 

Eric Dungey, at quarterback for the Orange.
 Or is this a chance to throw up the hands in disgust, wail to the football Gods, expect nothing but the worst, rant about how lousy the team will be again, and stay away from the hill in droves?

I'm hoping for the former. My dear wife Karen and I will be in our season tickets, year seven. The Orange is 1-0, oh, yes, we're optimists still.

I'm dreading the latter. I suppose the attendance announced won't drop below that 30,000 or so, what with the amount of season tickets sold and this being the first league game.

And you know how it can get around here.

It doesn't take much for it to turn ugly in the dome. Big Apple-born and Long Island-raised, I've been known to share my dismay out loud and get the slight elbow and sideways glance from my wife. Tough love. Boos and jeers interrupt the silence ...

These kids will show us something. At quarterback: Eric Dungey, 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds from Lakeridge High School, second-team all-state in Oregon and so quickly first on the Syracuse depth chart. 

Find more photos from the opening day of the season at my blog, markbialczak.com.