AUBURN, Ala. - Syracuse found out it could actually stop opposing defenses occasionally, and rediscovered a familiar quarterback.
Auburn found out it could play horribly for a half and still win, and Carnell Williams aced another endurance test.
The Tigers (4-1) and Orangemen (1-3) slugged it out late into Saturday night before Williams settled the 37-34 Auburn victory in the third overtime, with an 8-yard touchdown on his 40th carry.
"He makes a difference, and he gives us a chance," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He ran awfully hard and our offensive line kept getting stronger and stronger.
"Down the road, this game will pay off for us. It's good to come back and win a ball game like this. It built a lot of character."
The Tigers, who had won their last three games by an average of 36 points, fell behind 17-3 at halftime after flaming out five times in Syracuse territory.
The Orangemen came in with the nation's 114th-rated defense, and came up big several times despite giving up 502 yards. Mainly because of the relentless "Cadillac" Williams, whose 202 yards were a career high.
His 40 carries were one short of his own school mark set at Georgia last year.
"Cadillac is a great back," Syracuse defensive tackle Christian Ferrara said. "We stopped them, but he hit some holes and made some plays."
The Orangemen also made some plays, thanks largely to tailback Walter Reyes and backup quarterback Troy Nunes.
"You have to love the character of our team because when we were down, we fought back," Syracuse receiver
Nunes, a onetime starter, replaced a struggling R.J. Anderson late in the fourth quarter. He directed the game-tying, clock-chewing, 80-yard drive in regulation.
Nunes, who completed 9-of-10 passes for 80 yards, hit Andre Fontenette on a 2-yard scoring pass with 23 seconds left.
Anderson, whose first start was against Auburn last year in a 31-14 victory, was just 5-of-18 with three interceptions.
"I think at the end of the game, if R.J. is in there, the same things happen," Nunes said. "Fortunately, we got it to overtime. Unfortunately, we lost it."
The Orangemen, who are 0-3 against Division I-A opponents, scored on Jamel Riddle's 85-yard punt return and Reyes' 68-yard run in the first half.
They were outgained 502 to 321 in total yards.
"We played better after the half and we just outlasted them," Tuberville said. "It was a tough game with a lot of obstacles, but this game shows the strength of our program."
And the strength of Williams.
"When you've got a guy like Cadillac," Tuberville said, "you've got to honor him."
"He became a leader during the game and stepped up and won the game for us," center Ben Nowland added.
Shut out of the end zone for four quarters, Williams scored on a 6-yard run in the second overtime. Reyes sent the game to the third OT period with a 2-yard TD run.
Auburn held Syracuse to a 44-yard field goal by Collin Barber to open the third extra period, and the Tigers moved the ball steadily on their possession.
Auburn's own backup quarterback, Jason Campbell, led the comeback after starter Daniel Cobb went down with a sprained ankle.
Campbell rushed for a touchdown and passed for two more, going 10-of-15 for 117 yards with an interception.
The game was tied at 24 after regulation play, and both teams botched field-goal attempts in the first overtime.
"It was a war out there," Ferrara said. "It was a 15-round punch-out."
Or as Tuberville said, "That right there wasn't nothing but a character builder."