SYRACUSE — Syracuse coach Dino Babers paused at midfield in the Carrier Dome after the most important victory of his coaching career. He had no choice because he was surrounded by ecstatic fans stunned by the Orange's upset of No. 2 Clemson.
"You guys called it a signature win and I just concurred," Babers said after the Orange had defeated the Tigers 27-24 on Friday night. "This is big. I'm excited for the players. I'm excited for the university and the community. How about the fans tonight? Are you kidding me? We're loud, we're crazy up here, and that's the atmosphere it should be every time. It should be a very difficult place to play."
It certainly was for the Tigers, who were outplayed in a chippy game that featured 23 penalties for 219 yards that were evenly divided. Led by quarterback Eric Dungey's three touchdown passes and back-breaking runs, Syracuse ran 26 more plays than Clemson and outgained the Tigers 440-317.
"Failure is part of the journey," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "You win with class and you lose with class. We have to go back to the drawing board. This is going to hurt, but you move forward."
The Tigers (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) won the national championship last year despite a loss during the season to Pittsburgh. The road ahead this time likely will be more difficult. Quarterback Kelly Bryant, already nursing an injured ankle, was knocked out of the game just before halftime with a concussion after a big hit by Syracuse defensive tackle Chris Slayton. Bryant lay on the turf for a couple of minutes before being helped to the locker room and watched the rest of the game from the sideline.
The Tigers have time to heal. They have a bye week before facing Georgia Tech at home.
"Every goal is there for this team," Swinney said. "We've got to get better from this, have the type of season we want to have."
Clemson had won 12 consecutive games on the opponent's home field, the longest streak in school history and tied for the second longest active streak in the nation. Clemson also had won 11 consecutive games overall, the longest active winning streak in the nation, and 12 straight away from home against ACC teams.
"It's football. Everybody has a bad game," said backup quarterback Zerrick Cooper, who was 10 of 14 for 88 yards in relief of Bryant.
The Orange (4-3, 2-1) are 3-6 against the previous year's national champion, also beating Penn State in 1987 and Michigan in 1998. This was the program's first win in 13 tries against the No. 2 team in the nation.
"Quick show of hands. Who thought we were going to win tonight?" said Dungey, who passed for 278 yards and rushed for 61 more, his total yardage for the night 22 more than the Tigers had as a team. "That's exactly what we've been saying. It's just us. Nobody believes in us except us."
A raucous home crowd of 42,475 made it that much more satisfying.
"This is truly one of the moments that you coach for," said Babers, in his second year with the Orange. "This is really special."