PISCATAWAY, NJ - After falling behind, 7-0, early in the first quarter, Rutgers (5-7, 2-5 BIG EAST) rattled off 24-unanswered points to defeat Syracuse in RU's season finale today at Rutgers Stadium. The Scarlet Knights' defense held the Orangemen (5-6, 2-5 BIG EAST) scoreless for the final 58:54 of the game, while the offense took advantage of strong special teams play and rode the all-purpose production of redshirt freshman Brian Leonard one final time in 2003.
On the first series of the game, RU punter Joe Radigan had his punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. SU's Anthony Smith came off the right edge and blocked Radigan's kick, which Steve Gregory returned 5 yards for the score.
The game remained scoreless through the remainder of the first quarter and for most of the second, with the cold and wind factoring significantly into both team's play. Just when it appeared Syracuse would take a 7-0 lead into the half, SU's Marcus Clayton fumbled a punt, which Derrick Roberson recovered for the Scarlet Knights on the SU 42-yard line. Ryan Hart then connected with Shawn Tucker for nine yards and Marcus Daniels for four more, moving the unit to the 29. Following a 10-yard completion to Clark Harris, Hart found Tres Moses in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard strike, tying the game at 7-7 with just :25 left in the half.
In the third, Eddie Grimes jump-started RU's surge with his first career interception, which he returned 51 yards to the SU three-yard line. Three plays later, Hart dove into the end zone for a 14-7 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Mike Cortese used the gusting wind perfectly, as his kick fell short and into the hands of Ishmael Medley at the SU 33. Following a penalty, back-to-back long gains from Leonard (17 yards, 19 yards) pushed Rutgers to the two-yard line and Leonard closed it out with a two-yard plunge to extend the lead to 21-7.
Although Rutgers recovered the next kickoff as well, it was not until the fourth quarter, when Ryan Sands drilled 23-yard field goal, that Rutgers finished its scoring. The defense took care of the rest, limiting Syracuse to just 198 yards of total offense, including just 37 rushing yards. SU's Walter Reyes was held to 40 yards on 18 carries (2.2 average) while RJ Anderson completed just 14-of-32 passes for 161 yards.
Offensively, Leonard led RU in rushing (37 carries, 140 yards) and receiving (6 catches, 45 yards). Hart improved on his record-breaking totals by completing 19-of-33 passes for 125 yards and one TD, the 11th game this season in which Hart has thrown at least one TD pass.
Rutgers finished the 2003 season with five wins, the most since 1998, while its 3-3 home record was also the best since '98. RU also won its season finale for the first time since 1992, sending 15 seniors off on a winning note.
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score ----------------- -- -- -- -- ----- Syracuse............ 7 0 0 0 - 7 Record: (5-6,2-5) Rutgers............. 0 7 14 3 - 24 Record: (5-7,2-5) GAME STATS
Win Total is Highest Since 1998
Today’s win over Syracuse closes RU’s season with a 5-7 record – the most wins since RU finished 5-6 in 1998. RU also finished with a 3-3 home record – the best since 1998. The last time RU won its final game of the season was 1992 – when RU beat Temple, 35-10.
Bynes and Cunningham Make First Starts Of The Season
LBs Brad Cunningham and Terry Bynes earned their first starts of the season today. This was the fifth career start for Cunningham. As a freshman in 2001, he played in nine games, making four starts. This was the first career start for Bynes. They became the sixth and seventh different linebackers to start for Rutgers this season, joining William Beckford, Brian Bender, Will Gilkison, Berkeley Hutchinson and Devraun Thompson.
Hines Sees First Career Game Action
In the final game of his Rutgers career, walk-on Maurice Hines saw his first game action when he joined the kick-off team in the third quarter. Hines was on the field when Dondre Asberry recovered RU’s second kick-off of the quarter.
Hairston Returns to Action
At the 12:35 mark of the first quarter, freshman RB Justise Hairston made his way onto the field for the first time since suffering an injury vs. Pittsburgh on Oct. 18. Hairston picked up four yards on his first carry of the game and finished with three carries for four yards.
Hart Completes Trifecta
After setting Rutgers single-season records for yards and passing attempts last Saturday vs. Miami, Ryan Hart needed nine completions to set the single-season record in that category. He accomplished the feat with a six-yard completion to Brian Leonard, his 209th of the season. Hart also set the single-season INT mark with 20, surpassing the previous mark of 19, set in 2001 by Ryan Cubit.
Hart Throws TDs in 11 of 12 Games
Ryan Hart’s 19-yard touchdown completion to Tres Moses at the end of the second quarter was the 15th of the season for Hart. He has now thrown TD passes in 11 of 12 games this season. The lone game in which he did not throw a TD, RU rushed for 5 TDs (four by Hairston) and Clarence Pittman threw a 15-yard TD pass to Chris Loomis in a 48-27 win over Navy (9/27).
Grimes Joins INT Club
Junior CB Eddie Grimes picked up his first career interception today vs. Syracuse, returning an RJ Anderson pass 51 yards to the three-yard-line early in the third quarter. His pick was RU’s 10th of the season and his return was the second-longest (Brandon Haw had a 61-yard return for a TD vs. Michigan State on 9/6). RU had 11 INTs last season.
Leonard Moves Up Scoring Chart
With his two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter today, Brian Leonard increased his TD total to 14 and his point total to 86 this season – the fifth highest single-season total in RU history. Leonard has scored the most points since JJ Jennings (128) in 1973.
Leonard Enters Single-Season All-Purpose Top 10
With his 183 all-purpose yards (138 rushing, 45 receiving) Brian Leonard finished the season with 1,368 all-purpose yards, good for 6th place on the all-time single season list.
Leonard Goes Over 100 Yards for Third Time this Season
RB Brian Leonard rushed for 138 yards today, the third time he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in rushing this season. Rutgers has five 100+ rushing games this season – three by Leonard and two by Justise Hairston. Leonard ran for 132 vs. Army (9/13) and 184 vs. UConn (11/8). Hairston ran for 161 vs. Navy (9/27) and 115 vs. West Virginia (10/11). The last time an RU player rushed for over 100 yards on more than three occasions in the same season was 1998, when Jacki Crooks surpassed the mark in the final four games of the season.
Moses Moves Up Punt Return List
With his three returns for 51 yards today, Tres Moses moved into 10th place on the all-time single-season list in both returns (22) and yards (250).
Today’s attendance of 18,563 increased RU’s home total to 164,032 – an average of 27,338 over six home contests. The average is the highest since 1995, when RU averaged 30,640.
Rutgers Player Quotes
Ryan Hart, No. 13, So., QB
“ This is a big victory for the offseason. It’s a really nice way to send off our seniors. They deserve a win like this, after working so hard. For those of us returning, the win is definitely something to build on. It gives us a positive feeling going into next season.”
“We were able to take advantage of the breaks we had, and our team responded great. We felt comfortable out there and it felt good to be rewarded with the win.”
“I’m happy with my performance this season. I wanted to become a good leader for the team and this season gives me a positive outlook for next year. We accomplished a lot of goals this season, but there is room for improvement, and we’re confident we can succeed in the future.”
Brian Leonard, No. 23, FB, So.
“ We performed well today. This is a young team that improved over the course of the season. We have great athletes here and we’re definitely on the rise. Today’s win will carry over to next year. We can’t wait to hit the training room and prepare for 2004.”
“Growing up in my hometown, everyone there was a Syracuse fan, including myself, so it was kind of fun to be able to play against and beat the Orangemen.”
Raheem Orr, No. 1, DE, Sr.
“Today was such a fun way to end the season. But I admit it’s sad to leave these guys. I’m really going to miss everyone on this team. I am very happy with my career at Rutgers. I couldn’t ask for a better experience. Sitting out the first two years helped me mature and grow as a player.”
“Rutgers is a good team on the rise. This is the first time in the last five years that we had two Big East wins in one season. This program is moving up.”
Brandon Haw, No. 24, CB, Sr.
“We all feel a sense of accomplishment. We played some great teams this year and coming out with a win today is a really nice feeling. We’re building towards a very strong program here, everyone trusts the coaches and we all have confidence in one another.”
“This was a nice way to go out. Beating a Big East team was a strong
way to finish our season out. I remember in my first year at Rutgers when we
beat Syracuse in 1999. That was one of the most exciting moments in my life,
and today’s win ranked right up there. I am going to miss everyone here,
but I’m proud to have been a part of this program.”