Clayton Welch comes through in 1st and last start for Syracuse

first_img Published on November 30, 2019 at 4:48 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34 Clayton Welch couldn’t breathe. The redshirt senior quarterback had escaped out of the pocket on a 3rd-and-8, gaining 13 yards before being hit late by a Wake Forest defender directly in the sternum. Instead of sliding safely like Syracuse’s quarterbacks are taught to do, Welch left himself open to getting hit. He’d gotten the first down, but couldn’t stay in the game.“We call it ‘dive to daylight,’” Welch said. “To try to protect my body. I don’t really like to do that, so I’m not good at it, and he just popped me right in my sternum.”Welch’s injury pushed already-injured Tommy DeVito in for a few snaps. Minutes later Welch was back, helping lead the Orange (5-7, 2-6 Atlantic Coast) to a 39-30 overtime victory over Wake Forest (8-4, 4-4) in SU’s season finale. He was far from perfect during his last collegiate football game ever but led Syracuse both physically and emotionally, energizing the Orange when they needed him most. By the end of the back-and-forth contest, Welch had thrown for a career-high 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both coming in the first half. It was the first and only start of Welch’s Syracuse career, one in which he saw sporadic playing time as a backup quarterback for the Orange. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We’ve all known all season long how much he’s capable of,” SU defensive end Kendall Coleman said. “What he’s able to do. He was just waiting on an opportunity.”But up until a few weeks ago, opportunities were hard to come by. Last season, Welch was stuck behind both DeVito and Eric Dungey on the quarterback depth chart. He got on the field just once but failed to record any stats. This year, with the departure of Dungey, Welch was bumped up a spot. He saw playing time in Syracuse’s first five games, mostly in mop-up duty, before DeVito was knocked out of the game on Oct. 18 versus Pittsburgh. Against the Panthers, Welch showed what he could do. He completed just eight of his 20 passes for 176 yards, including the longest play of the year for the Orange, a 94-yard catch-and-run to Taj Harris. Welch also opened up a new facet of SU offense, using his mobility to move the chains similar to how Dungey did last season. The Orange lost, but Welch proved capable as a backup to DeVito. That’s partly why this week, when DeVito was injured during practice, SU head coach Dino Babers felt comfortable starting his redshirt senior. “(Welch) didn’t shy away from the spotlight,” Coleman said. “If anyone out there knows Clayton Welch, he will never shy away from the spotlight.”Welch clarified: “In a good way, OK?”And at the start of the game, Welch thrived. He picked up first downs with both his arm and his legs on SU’s second drive, ultimately ending it with a 12-yard strike to Trishton Jackson. Two drives later he pushed the Orange into the end zone again, this time dropping a ball into the hands of a wide-open Luke Benson to give them a 17-3 lead.But along with the positives came some negatives, in the form of two first-half interceptions. By halftime the offense had stagnated, and on SU’s first drive of the third quarter, Welch was hurt. “It was amazing to see my teammates fight for me,” Welch said. “We’d be in the huddle and they’d be like, ‘Clay, I got you. I’m not gonna let that happen again.’ There’s nothing cooler than that. All 10 people just fighting for you.”As Wake Forest mounted a comeback, Welch returned behind center for the Orange. He didn’t have the success that he did in the first half, but he did just enough to keep SU’s upset bid alive. With the game tied at 20 early in the fourth quarter, Welch completed a pass on 3rd-and-11 to Jackson to move the chains. Three plays later he did it again, scrambling out of the pocket to find Jackson again on third down to keep Syracuse’s drive going. Moe Neal scored a touchdown on the next play.Welch converted a pivotal 3rd-and-10 from his own 22 yard line with the game tied at 27. On the next play, he found Taj Harris for 33 yards down into Wake Forest territory. It led to a go-ahead field goal by Andre Szmyt with 44 seconds left. “Our relationship, he’s more like a brother to me,” Jackson said. “We argue a lot, we fight a lot, we hang out a lot, we do everything together, really. He’s more like a brother than a teammate, so to go out here, to see him start his last college game, the way he did things, the way he handled himself, I wanted to really play for him.”When Trill Williams ripped the ball out of Kendall Hinton’s arms in overtime and returned the ball for a touchdown to win the game, Welch mobbed the field along with the rest of his teammates. The quarterback’s up-and-down career ended the same way it’d gone for the past five years. Despite all the downs, Welch finished with a positive. And for the first and last time, it’d stay that way. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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