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Orange outlasts Bulls behind Nassib

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TAMPA, Fla. — Syracuse had a comeback for the ages.

Ryan Nassib threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Alec Lemon with 3 seconds left as Syracuse rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat South Florida 37-36 Saturday night.

“That was an unbelievable game — it was crazy,” Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. “I’m exhausted ... physically, mentally drained.”

Nassib, who finished with four TD passes, all coming in the second half, marched the Orange (4-4, 3-1 Big East) 75 yards in 1:23 for the winning score. He had helped cut Syracuse’s deficit to 33-31 on a TD pass to Marcus Sales, a 19-yarder with 7:17 left.

“We just went out ready to go ... calm, cool and collected, and we made it happen,” Nassib said of the final drive. “We learned how important it is to finish and what it takes to play a full 60 minutes, and realize that it’s never over. You’ve got to keep fighting.”

After blowing a 23-3 halftime advantage, USF (2-6, 0-4) regained the lead, 26-24, on Maikon Bonani’s 41-yard field goal with 2:15 left in the third. The Bulls went up 33-24 just over four minutes into the fourth when B.J Daniels threw a 30-yard TD pass to Andre Davis.

“I’m speechless on this one,” South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. “I wish I could say a bunch of things and make it better. Unfortunately, I can’t.”

Bonani’s school-record fifth field goal of the game, a 47-yarder, made it 36-31 with 1:27 remaining. The Bulls have lost six games in a row.

Nassib, the Big East passing leader, completed 27 of 40 passes for 328 yards. Jerome Smith rushed for 127 yards on 28 carries for the Orange.

USF had won six of the seven previous meetings between the teams since joining the league in 2005, with the lone loss against the Orange coming home at Raymond James Stadium two years ago. The Bulls have dropped 12 of their last 13 Big East games dating to November 2010, with the only victory over that stretch coming against Syracuse.

The Bulls took a late lead over unbeaten Louisville last week, only to watch the Cardinals come from behind in the closing minutes to win 27-25. USF also faltered late in the four losses previous to this game and last week’s.

“When you play pass defense the way we’ve played pass defense, it can make for a long day,” Holtz said.

The Bulls rushed for 369 yards, including 145 from Lindsey Lamar and 134 by Daniels, against a Syracuse defense that had given up just 35.3 yards per game on the ground against league opponents.

Holtz said Lamar was taken to a local hospital due to a chest injury. The coach had no additional details immediately after the game regarding the running back’s injury.

Demetris Murray had a 1-yard TD run on USF’s opening drive of the game and Bonani added a 35-yard field goal as South Florida took a 10-3 lead after one quarter.

Lamar broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run to make it 20-3 in the second quarter just one play after Syracuse’s Ross Krautman missed a 22-yard field goal.

Nassib started the second half comeback with a 31-yard scoring strike to Jarrod West early in the third. After Lemon had a 4-yard TD run, Nassib then connected with Sales on a 5-yard TD to put Syracuse up 24-23 midway through the third.

“Your good players have to play well for you to win and, at the end, that’s what happened on offense,” Marrone said.

Lemon’s TD run came after Durell Eskridge had blocked a punt.

“I knew we needed a big play at that moment, and I came through,” Eskridge said. “It was a wonderful feeling.”

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