SYRACUSE — For three quarters, the highly anticipated bout between Syracuse and Highland was marred by mental miscues and lackluster execution.
That changed in a hurry.
Syracuse battled back from a manageable 7-0 deficit late in the fourth quarter and eventually forced double overtime with two consecutive blocked field goal attempts before kicker Romney Harker redeemed an earlier shank with a 35-yard dagger to give the Titans a 17-14 win.
“After I missed my first one all of my teammates were encouraging me,” said Harker, who missed a would-be winner from 17 yards out with 54 seconds remaining in regulation. “I’m glad I could support them and win the game for them. ... I tried to forget about it and focus on what I’ve been practicing. It all went well.”
Following the wide-left attempt by Harker in the fourth quarter, Highland quarterback Jamahl Greer orchestrated a nine-play drive that ultimately positioned Mike Kerr with a 28-yard field goal. The Titans busted the protection and blocked the field goal, but a personal foul gave Kerr a second attempt from 23 yards out.
Syracuse’s Daunte Atkinson, who had absorbed a jarring hit on a bubble screen earlier, scooted untouched from the left side and blocked the second attempt to force overtime.
“Keep plugging away at what we do,” Syracuse coach Russ Jones said. “They practice hard; they lift hard; they do a great job of coming together as a team. We’re really lucky it turned out in our favor ‘cause I think it could have gone either way multiple times.”
The Rams (1-1) jumped ahead with 34.9 seconds left in the first quarter on a 68-yard post route from Greer to Ben Bergeson, who beat his defender in man coverage.
That was the extent of the offense for the majority of the first three quarters. The teams combined for 26 penalties, 17 courtesy of Highland alone.
“The kids kept focused. They never did lose the focus,” said Jones, whose team spoiled 294 yards of total offense with several drive killers. “They kept battling back. We weren’t executing great on offense, but our kids kept their heads in the game, saying, ‘We can come back. We can win this.’”
The Titans (2-0) took over on their own 20-yard line after Kerr’s 42-yard field goal fell well short with 10:36 in the fourth quarter. Behind sophomore quarterback Chase Bauerle, they embarked on a seven-play drive that culminated with a 16-yard corner to Blake Taurone with 7:49 remaining.
Bauerle was 21 for 34 for 182 yards with eight different receivers getting in the action.
Syracuse limited the Rams' high-powered rushing game to 110 yards on 29 attempts. Highland only had 262 total yards.
The Titans had an opportunity to escape in regulation after a botched 12-yard punt twirled out at the Rams’ 20-yard line. Two straight runs from Kavika Fonua, who finished with 83 yards rushing, pushed the line of scrimmage to the 2-yard line. However, a false start eventually stalled the drive before the missed kick.
“We never had a close game last year,” Harker said. “I’m really nervous right now, but it’s all good.”