Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'It was a defining moment': Former players reflect on 2010 Pinstripe Bowl victory

Bend, but don't break.

It was a simple message – one the Syracuse coaching staff had preached the entire 2010 season, and one instilled into cornerback Da’Mon Merkerson’s mind. A motto that became more pertinent than ever in the Pinstripe Bowl as Kansas State lined up for a potentially game-tying two-point conversion with 1:13 remaining.

Syracuse’s defense had certainly bent – it surrendered 34 points and let the Wildcats hang around. But it never broke. The Orange stopped KSU when it mattered most, preserving a 36-34 win.

“We gave them a touchdown, but we’re not gonna give up the game,” Merkerson said. “It was a defining moment. We may bend, but we’re not gonna break.”

After winning just 14 games combined throughout the previous five seasons, a win in the Pinstripe Bowl capped a full-fledged turnaround for Syracuse. That win helped paved the way for the current team and changed the culture of SU football. The 2012 Orange qualified for the Pinstripe Bowl yet again after a 7-5 regular season, and will face West Virginia on Saturday at 3:15 p.m.

Syracuse’s defense bent three times on three touchdown runs by Daniel Thomas. It bent yet again when quarterback Carson Coffman delivered a 30-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Hilburn to cut the deficit to two.

“We all came up together and said, ‘We worked too hard for this, man,’” linebacker Derrell Smith said. “One more play and we got the win.”

As Merkerson saw the ball coming toward him, he knew he had to make a play.

And he did. Merkerson didn’t let his man, Aubrey Quarles, catch the ball, as SU held on for the win.

“Everybody did what they were supposed to do,” Smith said. “Everybody stayed in their lane and did their responsibility and we came out with the win. It was a great experience for me. It was a crazy feeling.”

Earlier, with less than six minutes remaining in the game and Kansas State down five with the ball at Syracuse’s 11-yard-line, Wildcat head coach Bill Snyder made a gutsy call – a call he admitted was the wrong one after the game.

He decided to go for it on fourth down, instead of kicking a field goal and cutting the deficit to two, hoping to catch the Syracuse defense off guard.

But SU’s defense, led by the now-junior linebacker Marquis Spruill, swarmed around Ryan Doerr and sent him to the ground. Syracuse took over on downs with a chance to control its own destiny.

That’s when Orange running back Delone Carter went into beast mode. Carter had already racked up two touchdowns and more than 100 yards, but his most electrifying run came on the very next play after Syracuse regained possession.

Carter burst through a hole in the KSU defense and jetted down the near side of the field, picking up 60 yards before being tackled.

“The highlight of the game was Delone when he broke out for that run. He needs some extra speed because he got caught,” Merkerson said with a chuckle. “But that run, it was like, at that moment, we’re gonna win.”

Ross Krautman nailed a 39-yard field goal, extending Syracuse’s lead to 36-28 with just 3:08 remaining. But that was all the time Coffman and the Wildcats needed.

The quarterback sparked a drive downfield and gave Kansas State a chance. After Hilburn’s 30-yard touchdown reception, the wide receiver capped off the play with what seemed like a harmless celebratory gesture at the time.

He saluted the orange-clad crowd with a simple wave of the hand, a wave that may have cost KSU a win. The refs slapped him with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, pushing the Wildcats’ two-point conversion attempt back to the 17-yard line.

After a questionable call that went in their favor, the Orange defenders didn’t loosen up or breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, they bore down for one final play and made the stop, refusing to break.
Smith, who will be on the sidelines as a motivator for the Orange on Saturday, said the win helped turn the program around and made people respect Syracuse football.

“We had come so far those past few years from being down and being the laughing stock of college football,” Smith said. “For us to reach a bowl game and to win it in that manner – and to show that we had resiliency and we can persevere through tough times – it was something special for us.”

But for Merkerson, who grew up in nearby Passaic, N.J., the game wasn’t the only exhilarating aspect of the trip.

He recalls being overwhelmed inside Yankee Stadium, marveling at the spectacle around him. He had never played football on a baseball field and had never been inside the historic ballpark.

It was all a new experience for Merkerson. Even the jumbo-sized videoboard in Yankee Stadium was something new for the cornerback.

“That screen was so clear,” Merkerson said. “I was on the field looking at the screen thinking, ‘Damn, I wish I had that in my house.' It was overwhelming.”

Defensive end Mikhail Marinovich remembers walking into the Yankees’ locker room and then stepping onto the field, trying to take in the significance of the situation.

“It was a privilege to be there,” Marinovich said. “I’m a fan of baseball to begin with, so it was a little something special on top of just making it to a bowl game.”

Now, two years after the 2010 team set the foundation and paved the way for this year’s team to shine, the Orange looks for yet another win in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. SU will try to leave the Big East with a bang and earn its second bowl game victory in the last three years.

Merkerson, Smith and Marinovich will be watching, as players who shined at Yankee Stadium in 2010, such as wide receiver Marcus Sales and quarterback Ryan Nassib, look to add to their legacy with yet another momentous win.

“They’re like my little brothers,” Merkerson said. “I feel like a foundation was laid down, and now those guys will continue to teach the guys underneath them what needs to be done to continue to succeed.

“Winning isn’t easy. It’s a great feeling to see people excelling.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Not Top 10: Most un-bowl-ievably bad bowl names

By Trevor Hass - Syracuse University '15

The Advocare 100 Independence Bowl. Really?

Bowl season is now in full swing. Arizona squeaked out a 49-48 win in a shootout against Nevada, while Utah State romped Toledo 41-15, thanks to a dominant 3-touchdown performance by RB Kerwynn Williams.

The action is great, sure, but it’s not even close to as great as the incredible (and by incredible I mean atrocious) bowl names that accompany the games.

Remember when it was just called the Rose Bowl? The Rose Bowl was the purest thing in college football. Now it’s the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Vizio. Not so pure.

Here’s a Not Top 10 list of the worst bowl names in 2012, full of names that are almost as “un-bowl-ievably” bad as the incorporation of “un-bowl-ievably.” And that’s saying something.

10) Outback Bowl (Michigan vs. South Carolina, 1 p.m. on Jan. 1)

This one seems normal on the surface, but if you really think about it, it’s far from normal. Outback is a steakhouse. What does steak have to do with a bowl game? You’d think they’d cook up something a little more well done considering the high, um, stakes. Maybe they’re trying to give off the vibe of toughness (rawness) – that football players are so “meaty” and tough that they take people “Out-back” and teach them a thing or two. Doubtful. Not sure the Outback Bowl is the most scrumptious name out there.

9) Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Oregon vs. Kansas St., 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 3)

My only gripe with this one is that Tostitos is trying just a tad too hard. They’re basically implying that someone who likes football and their chips would naturally combine those two things into a fiesta. I’d be fine with Tostitos Bowl. Companies need to sponsor games. I get that. The “Fiesta” just puts it over the top. What if I want to just eat Tostitos while watching the Tostitos Bowl? Maybe I don’t want a fiesta. If I do, I’ll have my own fiesta and call it the Trevor Fiesta. Nope, that sounds preposterous. So does Tostitos Fiesta. Now you see where I’m coming from. The one thing I do like, though, is that Chip Kelly is coaching in a bowl game based predominantly around chips. That’s kind of cool.

8) Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (NC St. vs. Vanderbilt, noon on Dec. 31)

Wow. This one really speaks for itself, but I’ll throw in as many bad puns and semi-humorous one-liners just to keep you slightly entertained. I’m just picturing this 50-something with a monocle and a pinstripe suit from a mortgage company standing at midfield. “Hello everyone, and welcome to the Franklin Mortgage Music City Bowl. Whooph, saying that entire name was exhausting. I’m winded. Give me a second…….Who thought of this name anyway? It’s just awful.” Nothing says bowl season like the FAMMCB. The Fammcb. The Famsib. Oh you famsib, huh? I personally don’t famsib (fancy) it. Then again, maybe I do if I’ve had this much fun making fun of it. Maybe it’s all a master ploy to get people to talk about Franklin American Mortgage! Brilliant! Or maybe it’s just bad. It’s a toss-up, frankly.

7) Gator Bowl (Miss. St. vs. Northwestern, noon on Jan. 1)

Really? I’m picturing a massive gator lurking in the water ready to snatch and eventually pulverize its prey. But here’s the twist. The gator casually stands up, revealing a pair of fully functioning gator legs. He walks over to a nearby post, picks up a laptop and starts doing taxes.
“Honey, I’m slaying these taxes!”
“That’s great to hear, honey. I’m going to food shopping.”
“Later, gator.”
Is that what they’re going for? Again, doubtful. Possible, though.

6) Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Fresno St. vs. SMU, 8 p.m. on Dec. 24)

All I can picture is a massive hotel/football field combo in a bowl-shape. That would be sweet. If they actually had that, I would book a flight right away and switch to Sheraton for life. I may actually be onto something there. Anything involving Hawaii is awesome, so I won’t make fun of this one too much. The only thing I’ll say is that I would reconsider pairing a hotel with an island. Those two don’t really go together. Just kidding. Crap. I guess this name’s not that bad. I’m keeping it in the Not Top 10 though. You’ll just have to accept it. On second thought, here’s a flaw. I think Sheraloha Bowl has a nice ring to it. I’ll run it by Sheraton and let you know what they say. Hopefully, it’s a go.

5) Little Caesars Bowl (W. Kentucky vs. C. Michigan, 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 26)

Ready for another ridiculous scenario? Of course you are! If you weren’t, you would have stopped reading awhile ago. Picture lots of Little Julius Caesars running around with swords and robes (that’s what they wore, right?) It’s 4th and 1. Central Michigan has the ball at Western Kentucky’s 2-yard line with four seconds to go, down six points.  Hilltopper defensive back Jonathan Dowling turns to his Little Caesar friend and says: “Time to Caese the moment, comrade!” Then Dowling attacks Chippewa QB Ryan Radcliff. But then, in a shocking twist, CMU offensive lineman Eric Fisher turns around and tackles Radcliff in the ultimate form of betrayal. “Et tu, Brute?” Radcliff says, following the “Brute” tackle, and lies on the ground, defeated, with the game over and the season a disappointment. Fin.

4) Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (TCU vs. Mich St., 10:15 p.m. on Dec. 29)

You’re with a couple of buddies at Buffalo Wild Wings watching the game. Hey, I ate Tostitos and had a fiesta while watching the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl … why not watch the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Buffalo Wild Wings? Mich St. has the ball in a tie game with seven seconds to go at TCU’s 43-yard line, just out of field goal range. It’s Le’Veon Bell time. Mich St. head coach Mark Dantonio plays it safe and hands the ball to his star running back. It looks like he’s about to get tackled and the game will head into overtime. But then he breaks free! Un-Bell-ievable! Then, in a shocking turn of events, a rock emerges on the field out of nowhere and Bell trips and flies forward – just a few yards short of the endzone – as time expires. Similar situations unfold over and over again, and eventually the game heads into quintuple overtime. That’s okay! More wings and beer! If you don’t get the reference, watch this:
You probably get it, though, considering you likely care about and watch sports.

3) San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (BYU vs. SDSU, 8 p.m. on Dec. 20)

I just don’t quite see the connection between an unexciting company, a flower and a football game. Isn’t that what the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio is for? The SDCCUPB doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. The credit union deserves no credit here. Credit is exciting! The bowl name should get people excited! I mean, I guess San Diego’s exciting. Poinsettias are moderately exciting. Football’s all right, too! But county credit union … doesn’t get much dryer and less exciting than that.

2) R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (E. Carolina vs. La. Lafayette, noon on Dec. 22)

R+L’s Carrier’s slogan is “We ship anything, anywhere, anytime.” All right, then. How about shipping in some new marketing specialists? This name is a “shipwreck.” First of all (maybe it’s just me), but I didn’t know what R+L Carriers was. Secondly, now that I do, there’s no pizzazz to the name. It doesn’t make me want to ship my products with them. Come on, R+L; I expect better of you. Finally, I’m just envisioning a truck driver “carrying” the football and getting absolutely obliterated, like Caesar. This name just isn’t good. It’s not as laughable as some of the others, but it’s just as bad – if not worse.

1) Advocare V100 Independence Bowl (Ohio vs. UL Monroe, 2 p.m. on Dec. 28)

This one takes the cake. The worst of the worst. The most un-bowl-ievably bad. “I have enough independence to use Advocare V100 on my own now! I’m independent! You can gain that independence too by switching to Advocare!” Frankly, I don’t (Advo)care. This is not a good name for a bowl game.

There you have it: The 10 most un-bowl-ievably bad bowl names.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Published December 8, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Brittney Sykes was energized from the get-go.

Less than a minute into the game, she stole the ball and raced downcourt. She swiveled her body and found a wide-open Cornelia Fondren in the right corner.

Fondren drained the 3-pointer and got Syracuse on the board.

“My personal style is that I like to gamble and go for steals – easy buckets,” Sykes said. “Usually after a steal the energy picks up.”

It certainly did.

Syracuse burst out to a 10-point lead in the first nine minutes, as Sykes sparked the Orange right away.

The freshman’s afternoon was just getting started, though, as she played her most complete game this season and bullied Loyola early and often. Sykes filled up the stat sheet Saturday in Syracuse’s (9-1) 83-48 victory over Loyola (Md.) (4-6) in the Carrier Dome in front of 417 fans. She finished with 15 points, five steals, five rebounds and three assists, igniting SU to the blowout victory.

“As long as she’s aggressive and she can get some things in transition going to the rim I think everything else opens up,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said.

And it did.

Syracuse was in a slump midway through the first half. After building an early lead, the Orange let Loyola claw back into the game. Consecutive 3s by Nicole Krusen and Alyssa Sutherland cut Syracuse’s lead to 16-14 with 7:38 remaining in the half.

Less than two minutes later, Sykes stole an errant pass from Sutherland and raced down to the other end. She bulldozed her way to the basket and laid the ball up and in, drawing a foul in the process.

She swished the free throw, pushing SU up five.

Then Sykes got a hand in the passing lane yet again. She came away with the ball and flew downcourt, as Loyola defenders frantically tried to stop her. She missed the layup, but Kayla Alexander cleaned up what Sykes had started.

After a jumper by Loyola’s Diana Logan, Sykes spotted up in the corner, waiting patiently for a pass. She stood in the same spot where Fondren drained a 3 to start the game.

This time, Sykes took Fondren’s pass. She squared her body toward the basket and connected from deep, putting Syracuse up 24-16 with 4:38 to go in the first half.

“She’s a very athletic player that can really slash to the basket,” Hillsman said. “Her shooting keeps people honest. That’s one thing that we talked about.”

In the second half, Sykes didn’t skip a beat. She forced another steal and converted on a putback off a missed hook by Alexander, as the Orange’s lead started to balloon with the score 36-20.

Sykes was the sparkplug for Syracuse, as the Orange took it to Loyola in the second half and ended up shooting almost 56 percent in the half and dropping 51 points.

Hillsman said it was Sykes’ best game so far this season. She struggled over the past three games, scoring only nine total points on 3-of-14 shooting.

Saturday that all changed in a hurry. Sykes sped Loyola up and flustered the slower Greyhounds.
She forced five steals and ignited multiple fast breaks.

Sykes said it was tough not to get down on herself during the inconsistent stretch coming into the game, but she said her teammates were supportive and told her to keep her head up.

“My confidence level is so high right now all thanks to my teammates, honestly,” Sykes said. “I’ve been down on myself from scoring and how to score, but they’ve been keeping me positive.”

Hillsman said Sykes was efficient in all aspects of the game Saturday. Despite her recent struggles, Hillsman knows he can expect many dominant games from Sykes down the road.

“It’s tough having such a dominant player because you want the finished product now, but the finished product might not be in two or three years,” Hillsman said. “She had a very, very good game tonight.”

Carmen Tyson-Thomas said Sykes is stepping into her role as a scorer and defender for Syracuse. She cheered from the bench and alongside Sykes on the court as the freshman forced turnovers, snatched rebounds and drilled 3-pointers.

“I’m proud of her,” Tyson-Thomas said. “I was in the same position as a freshman to come in and have to score. It’s a big role to take on, and I’m glad she’s stepping into it.”