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Pitt hangs on to beat Youngstown State 45-37

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Qadree Ollison rushed for 207 yards and a touchdown in his collegiate debut as ‪‎Pitt‬ beat Youngstown State 45-37 at Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon.

Pittsburgh, PA—Consider them the fly in the Pittsburgh Panthers’ ointment.

Youngstown State (0-1), who had a historic victory over Pitt in 2012 in the coaching debut of then-Panthers head man Paul Chryst, gave their best effort spoil the first game of the Pat Narduzzi’s career in the steel city, but ultimately fell short.

Despite the pesky nature of the Bo Pelini-coached Penguins, Pitt had never lost the lead after answering a Zak Kennedy 22-yard field goal, which opened the scoring for YSU midway through the 1st quarter. The Panthers took the lead on a James Conner 13-yard touchdown run just two minutes later.

"There are pretty wins and ugly wins, and this was probably somewhere in between,” said Narduzzi after the game. “There were a lot of good things out there, and there were a lot of things that, as a coach, make you want to pull your hair out."

One of those hair-pulling moments came early in the 2nd quarter, when Conner had a rush up the middle and apparently injured his lower body, never returning to the game afterwards.

“James is fine, we are just being cautious,” said Narduzzi of Conner, who still finished the day with 8 carries for 79 yards. “I think we have a strong stable of back up backs.”

Insert Qadree Ollison, the pride of the back-ups for the Panthers, who blew the Penguins defense away after the Conner injury. The redshirt freshman rushed for 207 yards on just 16 carries with one touchdown coming on a 71-yard dash with 4:48 left in the 3rd quarter, advancing the Panther lead to a 31-16 difference.

Ollison’s 207 yards were the most in a season opener by a Pitt freshman, shattering Dion Lewis’ 129 yard-mark against YSU in 2009.

“I just went out there and did what I could for the team,” said the humble Ollison. “It felt great to be relied on like that, but this wasn’t just about me. The rest of the team did their part to make the win possible.”

Ollison was the catalyst to a team 325 yard rushing performance, which made up for a rugged day for Chad Voytik and the air assault, which tallied up just 133 yards, with Voytik going just 9 of 14 for 72 yards.

One of the more bizarre and exciting plays of the day came from the arm of Voytik, who in the 4th quarter fired up a deep pass to two wide open Panther receivers apparently running the same route. Tight end Scott Orndoff bounced off Elijah Zeise and made the catch, stumbling his way into the end zone on the 55-yard score.

Voytik, who played the entire 2nd half was splitting time with junior quarterback Nate Peterman early in the game. Voytik tossed a pick six by LeRoy Alexander with just 48 seconds left in the half.

“We will evaluate the process,” said Narduzzi of the quarterback situation. “I thought Chad Voytik did a decent job. It was definitely part of the plan to get Nate Peterman in there early and not wait for critical situations. We wanted to get him in there early, during the 1st quarter.”

Despite surrendering 407 yards to the Penguins, the Panthers defense, highlighted by a two-sack, 10-tackle performance from Nicholas Grigsby, stood strong and helped ice YSU’s chances forcing a three-and-out on their final possession of the game with just under a minute left.

“I thought our guys fought back when they needed to,” stated Narduzzi.  “That 4th down stop late in the game was a huge play.  We did what we had to do to win.  Give coach Pelini and their staff a lot of credit.  They are a good football team and they will win a lot of games this year.”

Narduzzi and the Panthers will look for win No. 2 when they begin the first of a three-game road trip at Akron next Saturday.  Kickoff for that game is slated for 6 PM.

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