Syracuse returns to its winning ways

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- About a half-hour after his team's 13-10 road win over Rutgers, second-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone had a message for the fans and followers of the once-powerful program.

"We're just trying to put out a product that you can be proud of again," he said.

Mission accomplished, coach.

Syracuse won a mistake-filled game of attrition against the Scarlet Knights to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and ensure that it finishes with a winning record for the first time since 2001.

And while it wasn't pretty, you can bet no one in upstate New York is complaining.

Syracuse won on a 24-yard field goal from freshman kicker and Franklin Lakes, N.J., native Ross Krautman with 1:07 to go, less than four minutes after Rutgers kicker San San Te came up short on a 45-yarder.

"That's what I live for," said Krautman, who also drilled a 47-yarder late in the third to tie the game at 10-10.

The Orange's win set off a celebration on the sideline and left some players in tears, an understandable outpouring of emotion given the circumstance.

Upperclassmen on this team have seen some dark times at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse was 10-37 in the four seasons prior to Marrone's 2009 arrival.

The Bronx-bred Marrone played offensive line at Syracuse under coach Dick MacPherson in the late 1980s, so he suffered along with the rest of the Orange faithful as the team struggled under Greg Robinson.

"I struggled too being on the outside watching what was going on with our program, not being able to get over this hump," he said. "I had always thought 'Let's try to get it back to a level where people expect us to be.'"

Expectations at Syracuse were once lofty. The Orange put together a 15-year streak of winning seasons from 1987-2001, producing pros such as Marvin Harrison and Donovan McNabb along the way.

Marrone inherited a team coming off a 3-9 campaign in 2008 that ended with a 30-10 loss to Cincinnati. The Orange went 4-8 in his first season. So the astronomical leap they're making this fall caught most if not all college football observers by surprise.

Syracuse beat Big East powers South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia on the road this season and was on the verge of clinching a bowl berth last week, but fell short against Louisville in a 28-20 loss at home.

Things looked dicey for a while Saturday night against Rutgers, which was playing its first game since junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the neck down Oct. 16.

Rutgers was in great position to take a lead with a little over four minutes left in the fourth when freshman Jeremy Deering ran around right end for 22 yards to give Rutgers a first-and-10 at the Syracuse 17.

But running back Kordell Young lost a fumble out of bounds at the 25 on the next play and quarterback Tom Savage was sacked for a loss of 8. That set up a 45-yard attempt for Te, whose low line drive kick off a botched snap fell woefully short.

Syracuse's offense, which had gained just 80 yards in the second half entering final drive, took over at the 28 with 3:51 to go.

There was no rah-rah speech from Marrone.

"You'd like to think we went in there and said, 'Now it's time!' None of that stuff really happened," the coach said.

Instead, Syracuse used a heavy dose of Antwon Bailey, who had runs of 14, 7 and 15 yards to help set up the 26-yarder for Krautman, who calmly drilled the kick and ran off the field to join his teammates in a wild celebration.

The freshman wasn't around for the dark days in upstate New York. But he's happy to play a pivotal role in the revival.

"That win brought us to a bowl game, which is huge. That seventh win of the season. It's what we were all waiting for," Krautman said.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.