PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—With a game ball in one hand, a teary Brian Leonard used a knight’s sword as a baton to direct the Rutgers band in the school alma mater in yet another celebration at the birthplace of college football on Saturday.
It was pure joy at not just a 38-7 victory over Syracuse that moved No. 15 Rutgers (10-1, 5-1) to within a win of earning its first Big East championship, but the entire sense of accomplishment that has overtaken this program since Greg Schiano took over as coach six years ago.
Don’t forget this was a team that went 3-20 in Schiano’s first two seasons, and Leonard and his fellow seniors experienced the worst and overcame it. Their final home game was a time to celebrate before concentrating on next week’s road game at No. 7 West Virginia, which was upset by South Florida.
If the Scarlet Knights win, they will earn a berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
“There was so much going through my head,” Leonard said in recounting his maestro moments. “The flashbacks of what this program has gone through. Just looking at the team seeing the seniors with tears in their eyes.
“They know there is a lot of season left, but just taking them out on a win at home is awesome,” said the fifth-year senior who rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns and become the Scarlet Knights’ all-time leading scorer in the process. “They know what we have been through in the past and now we have changed it around.”
The moment was not lost on sophomore quarterback Mike Teel, who threw two touchdown passes a week after being picked off four times in a loss to Cincinnati.
“Words couldn’t describe that moment,” said Teel, whose TD passes covered 38 and 28 yards to Kenny Britt. “That’s something 10 million dollars couldn’t buy, the feeling he must have had. I’m so happy for him.”
“That’s the guy I want seeing doing that,” defensive tackle Eric Foster added. “Just seeing him do that sent chills through my body.”
The 10-win season is only the second in school history, one shy of the mark set by the Scarlet Knights’ undefeated team in 1976. They were honored at halftime Saturday.
Ray Rice ran for 107 yards and a touchdown, and Jeremy Ito added a 32-yard field goal.
Safety Courtney Greene had an interception and a forced fumble as the Scarlet Knights kept Syracuse (4-8, 1-6) off the scoreboard until Andrew Robinson hit Jawad Nesheiwat with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 7:44 to go.
Syracuse coach Greg Robinson feels his team improved in his second season.
“Unfortunately, today was not a shining moment,” he said. “But in all, I know how much this team has improved.”
Rutgers dominated from the start despite having Willie Foster’s 99-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff nullified by an illegal block.
Taking over at its own 12, Rutgers needed eight plays to find the end zone, aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty for illegal helmet touching on Tanard Jackson on a third-down sack. Two plays later Teel and Britt combined for a 22-yard pass. Rice capped the drive with a 10-yard run, his 17th touchdown of the season. The 100-yard game was his eighth of the season.
Greene picked off a fluttering pass by Perry Patterson on the next possession and returned it 26 yards to the Syracuse 38. On first down, Teel found Britt all alone for a walk-in score.
Leonard scored on Rutgers’ opening drive of the second half on a 2-yard run and now has 266 points. The old scoring mark was 261, set by kicker Kennan Starzell from 1976-79.