Coverage: ABC Regional coverage
1:00 PM ET, December 6, 2003
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Walter Reyes wasn't about to lose that big grin after leading Syracuse to a season-ending victory over Notre Dame. Neither were his teammates -- or his beleaguered coach.
"What a great win!" Reyes said Saturday after rushing for 189 yards and five touchdowns to lead Syracuse to a 38-12 victory.
"It just showed a lot of character and heart. For the program, we wanted to come out here and show the nation that Syracuse football is still here."
It was the first meeting between the teams in 40 years and the outcome was a bitter disappointment for the Irish (5-7). Instead of extending their winning streak to four games, they finished with their third losing season in five years, something that had never happened in the storied history of the program.
"We felt that this game could have been a good springboard into the offseason," coach Tyrone Willingham said. "This could be a very difficult loss, but we can't allow it to be."
It could have been very difficult for Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni if the Orangemen had lost. He has been heavily criticized since last year's team went 4-8. Instead, the Orangemen (6-6) snapped a three-game losing streak and averted another losing season.
Athletic director Jake Crouthamel said after the game that he would sit down with Pasqualoni on Sunday for an evaluation and make an announcement later in the week.
Pasqualoni, 101-53-1 in 13 years as head coach, basked in the happy aftermath of the victory and declined to speak about his status. His players clearly adore him.
"We love that man," said defensive tackle Christian Ferrara, who had five tackles for losses. "If something does go bad like that, I think it's the biggest mistake this university will ever make."
"He ain't going anywhere. I hope he doesn't," said Reyes, who has a school-record 38 rushing touchdowns, three more than Floyd Little in his career, and also finished the season with a record 134 points. "He's done so much for us. If he does, it will be heartbreaking."
The victory ended a difficult week for the Orangemen. Not only did they have to forget last week's embarrassing 24-7 loss at Rutgers, they had to deal with the prospect that Pasqualoni's job was in jeopardy.
"This whole week ever since the drama was going on about him being fired, I think he did a great job. He didn't really care about that," Reyes said. "He wants to beat Notre Dame, and the players fed off that."
Especially Reyes, who had not rushed for 100 yards since the fourth game of the season. He scored twice in a 95-second span in the third quarter on runs of 3 and 15 yards to give Syracuse a 24-6 lead, then stunned the Irish on a 71-yard TD run off right tackle with 11 seconds left in the third after they had moved to 24-12.
"It was kind of a momentum breaker for them," said Reyes, who finished the season with 1,347 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
The Irish had been winning behind the running of Julius Jones, who had averaged 200 yards per game during their three-game winning streak.
Against the fired-up Syracuse defense, Jones gained only 9 yards on eight carries in the first quarter. Right after he had a 26-yard run to the Syracuse 14 early in the second, he fumbled on the next play and Steve Gregory recovered for the Orange.
"When we were able to get the running game going (in the last three games), everything flowed better for the team," said Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who was 18-for-34 for 199 yards and threw two interceptions. "We didn't establish it today, and it hurt us throughout the game."
Indeed. Jones finished with 54 yards on 20 carries, and the Irish gained only 62 yards on 36 attempts.
"I think we're the best defensive line they faced," Ferrara said. "I'll take this over anything in the world, going out with a win, a dominating win, against a team like this."