Syracuse's Zack Mahoney looks to pass the ball in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Syracuse won 30 27. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
Nick Lisi
September 24, 2015

Matt Foster was all smiles on the raucous bus ride home after his College of DuPage Chaparrals had soundly beaten Georgia Military last weekend to remain unbeaten after three games.

The ride got even wilder when Foster was alerted that Syracuse had beaten Central Michigan in overtime with a big help from his former quarterback - Zack Mahoney.

''Me and all the kids on the bus were screaming our heads off,'' Foster said. ''The kids went nuts. Everybody is just so proud and happy for him. He deserves it.''

The Chicago-born Mahoney went from junior college standout in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to preferred walk-on at Syracuse, enrolling in January. Fifth on the depth chart in preseason, a season-ending injury to starting senior Terrel Hunt and a head injury suffered last Saturday against Central Michigan by freshman standout Eric Dungey has thrust Mahoney into the limelight, and so far he has delivered.

Mahoney, a slender 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, completed all four passes he attempted against the Chippewas, including a 13-yarder in extra time to tight end Kendall Moore on a third-and-5 play that set up Jordan Fredericks' clinching 4-yard scoring run.

''You always picture yourself as a little kid in overtime or the fourth quarter when the clock's running down,'' Mahoney said. ''We took care of business. I was just glad to be a part of it.''

Mahoney threw for 1,943 yards and 18 touchdowns with 10 interceptions at the College of DuPage last season. Now, with Dungey listed as doubtful and unlikely to play against No. 8 LSU on Saturday in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse offensive coordinator Tim Lester has been giving Mahoney the most reps in practice and he's in line to start.

''I tried to ease him in (against Central Michigan),'' Lester said. ''He proved that he could handle the situation. This week's a whole new deal.''

Is it ever.

''I don't think it would've been a good thing,'' said Mahoney if someone had told him a year ago he'd be starting against a team like LSU. ''Coming in as a walk-on, you don't expect to start, especially with a fifth-year senior, but you have to prepare yourself every week so that you can go in.

''I like to think I've prepared myself, and with all the preparation there's no time for nerves. You just have to go out and do what you're told and read everything you can.''

The Orange have taken the quarterback problems in stride. If Mahoney starts, he'll be the third guy this season - Hunt started the opener and Dungey the past two games.

''In a weird way, when Dungey went down there was no panic,'' linebacker Zaire Franklin said. ''It was like a been-there-done-that type of situation. We know we just have to step up. We just have to play our part and keep points off the board.''

Added Foster: ''I think he'll be great. The kid thrives on challenges. The higher you set the bar, the better he does.''


Freelance writer Mark Frank in Syracuse contributed.


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