SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Ryan Nassib threw for a career-high 318 yards and three touchdowns, including the decisive one to walk-on Mike Acchione midway through the fourth quarter, and Syracuse held off game Rhode Island 21-14 on Saturday.
It was the first meeting between the teams and Rhode Island's season-opener, and the FCS Rams held tough right to the last snap. Syracuse has won 28 straight games against FCS teams and has not lost to one since a 14-13 setback at Holy Cross in 1958.
The Rams, who play in the Colonial Athletic Association, were coming off a rare bye week to begin the year and returned all 11 offensive starters, including senior quarterback Steve Probst, who gave the Orange (2-0) fits all day.
After Rhode Island's Anthony Baskerville made a sensational diving 15-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 14 with 10:36 to go in the third quarter, Nassib and the Orange regrouped and drove 80 yards in eight plays for the winning score.
Nassib rolled right and hit Acchione with a 12-yard scoring pass at the right pylon for the senior's first career touchdown with 8:34 left.
Probst had one last chance when the Rams got the ball back with just over 3 minutes left, but he was sacked twice by linebacker Marquis Spruill for 17 lost yards and his long desperation pass was intercepted by Phillip Thomas.
Short and long, Nassib was on target after a shaky start. He matched a school record with 29 completions on 37 attempts, including eight for 134 yards and one touchdown to Van Chew and 10 for 94 yards and one score to Alec Lemon. But the Rhode Island defense stuffed the Orange run game, holding Syracuse to 36 yards on 25 carries, and sacked Nassib three times.
Against Maine two years ago in Doug Marrone's first season as head coach at Syracuse, the Black Bears, who also play in the CAA, made the game interesting much too long for the Orange. Maine flawlessly executed two onside kicks and two fake punts and led 17-13 at halftime. Syracuse took over in the second half and won 41-24.
Rhode Island didn't try anything quite so bold, but the Rams had Probst, a dual-threat quarterback, to lean on, and the 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior gave the Orange defense fits with clutch runs and key passes as Syracuse tried to contain him.
Probst was 14 of 30 for 154 yards passing and 46 yards rushing on 15 carries, and Baskerville had seven catches for 88 yards.
The Orange played without stalwart defensive end Chandler Jones and safety Olando Fisher, both seniors, and junior cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson. All are out with injuries.
Syracuse twice gained seven-point leads and twice the Rams tied it. After forcing Syracuse to punt after three plays on the first possession of the second half, Rhode Island drove 75 yards to tie the score at 14.
Unfazed, Probst then shrugged off a roughing-the-passer penalty with a pretty 12-yard completion to Brandon Johnson-Farrell along the right sideline. He then hit Baskerville in the left corner of the end zone as Baskerville made an incredible diving catch, fully stretched out behind defenders Phillip Thomas and Kevyn Scott, whose pleas for an incompletion were for naught.
Nassib, whose late-game heroics spurred Syracuse to its comeback 36-29 overtime victory over Wake Forest in the season-opener 10 days ago, started slowly for the second straight game. His first pass of the game was intercepted by cornerback Devon Dace.
It didn't take long for Nassib to get on track. After the Orange forced the Rams to punt, Nassib used a series of short passes to guide Syracuse 73 yards in 11 plays for a 7-0 lead. He connected with Chew on completions of 11, 8 and 10 yards, the latter on a fourth-and-5 play, before finding Chew over the middle for a 22-yard touchdown midway through the first.
Probst keyed the Rams' first touchdown, gaining a tough 15 yards on a keeper up the middle on a third-and-15 play and another 4 on a fourth-and-1 play. Two snaps later, Travis Hurd cut left, broke back into the middle, shrugged off an arm tackle, and scored on a pretty 26-yard run.
It took Nassib four plays and 82 seconds to put Syracuse back in front. He hit Chew for a pretty 62-yard gain, hitting him in stride at the Rhode Island 20. Chew took it to the 4, and Nassib hit Lemon for a touchdown on the next play for a 14-7 lead the Orange took into halftime.