Syracuse 37, Northwestern 34
Max Suter set up the winning points with an interception of Mike Kafka, returning it to the Wildcats 39.
Greg Paulus scored on a 10-yard run and was 24-for-35 for 346 yards and two touchdowns with one interception for the Orange (1-2), who started 0-3 the previous two seasons under former coach Greg Robinson. Mike Williams had 11 catches for 209 yards and two TDs for the Orange.
Kafka was 35-for-42 for 390 yards and three touchdowns and scored on a 3-yard run.
Paulus, who starred at point guard for Duke for four years before giving football a shot with his final year of athletic eligibility, was elusive, sharp, and in command from the outset. He displayed a flair for the deft fake, sidestepping the rush when he had to, completing throws on the run against blitzes, even scoring on a nifty run.
But he also made two big mistakes that nearly cost the Orange the win. Paulus threw an interception in the end zone in the final 10 seconds of the first half after Syracuse had forced a turnover. He also lost a fumble that Northwestern capitalized on for the go-ahead score late in the third.
And it was Kafka, who was magnificent until his ill-fated throw. He took a snap from center and passed left to former quarterback Andrew Brewer, who then passed it back across the field to Kafka at the 30. he sidestepped his way down the sideline to give Northwestern a 28-27 lead. It was Brewer's first career TD pass.
The Wildcats scored again with 9:04 left on an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Kafka hit Zeke Markshausen for 13 and 30 yards on consecutive plays, then rolled right and hit Demetrius Fields with a 3-yard TD toss.
But Stefan Demos, whose 49-yard field goal in the final seconds gave the Wildcats a 27-24 victory over Eastern Michigan a week ago, missed the extra point and the Orange had renewed life.
Paulus quickly capitalized, guiding Syracuse 70 yards in six plays and hitting Williams with a pretty 13-yard strike over the middle on a third-and-5 play to tie it at 34-all with 6:07 left.
Syracuse looked set to run away with the game, scoring 17 straight points in the first quarter. Paulus gave the Orange a 17-0 lead with a pretty 66-yard scoring pass to Williams, faking a handoff to Donte Davis and hitting Williams in stride at the Wildcats 20.
Unaccustomed to playing from behind the first two games, Kafka got Northwestern's no-huddle offense in gear and led the Wildcats to 21 straight points in the second quarter. He led three straight scoring drives that, combined, covered 222 yards in 19 plays and only took 5:24.
The senior capped the first drive with a 3-yard run, then hit Brewer with a 39-yard touchdown pass and Drake Dunsmore with a 22-yard scoring strike to give the Wildcats a 21-17 lead with 3:59 remaining.
Mike Jones finally gave Syracuse a big jolt when he returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards to the Northwestern 43. After another pretty fake in the backfield, Paulus hit Davis for 23 yards down the right side to set up Delone Carter's 3-yard TD run that gave Syracuse a 24-21 halftime lead.