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Miami's early start too much for Pitt

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Miami's Brad Kaaya threw for 261 yards and the Hurricanes rode a big first half to a 29-24 win over ‪Pitt‬ in the regular season finale at Heinz Field.

PITTSBURGH - The last time a Pitt squad beat Miami in Pittsburgh, President Bill Clinton was in office rounding out the year 1997.

Present day—and two Presidents later—the Panthers still couldn’t break through as Miami rode a prolific passing game to a 29-24 victory at Heinz Field Friday on senior day.

Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for 261 yards, going 21 of 35 with one touchdown through the air, and one rushing — a one-yard scramble that capped a 13-play, 75-yard opening drive giving Miami a lead it would never surrender.

“I didn’t feel like we had the energy in the first half and I don’t know why,” said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi.  “Sometimes it is tough on a senior day.  There are a lot of emotions out there and sometimes that plays a background.  The energy in the first half, I just didn’t feel it for whatever reason.”

Miami (8-4, 5-3) hung 17 points on the Panthers in the first quarter — the most since Oct. 25th of last season when Georgia Tech stuck 28 points in the first 15 minutes.

Kaaya’s 22-yard pass to Rashawn Scott that advanced the ‘Canes lead to 17 took the air out of a Panthers offensive squad that only mustered 102 yards and a 25-yard Chris Blewitt field goal going into the half.

“They’ve got a good team, they were sound and we knew we would see it,” Narduzzi said of Miami.  “They made the plays in the first half and we didn’t.”

Pitt (8-4, 6-2) regrouped in the second half and put together a comeback led by the tough ground game spearheaded by freshman Darrin Hall, who busted through a scrum and into the end zone for a 35-yard dash that gave the Panthers their first touchdown of the game late in the 3rd quarter.

Hall finished the day with a game-best 103 yards on 12 carries, while Ollison chipped in with 37 on 10 carries.

I was just trying to get a win,” Hall said. “It was senior night and I was just trying to do whatever I can. My number was called and I was just trying to get a win.”

The Panthers’ momentum on offense tipped over to the defense, as Pitt held Miami to just two second half field goals.

“One of the reasons why I love this football team is because they have no quit in them,” Narduzzi said. “They never quit. They continue to fight and fight and fight. They always feel like they have a chance to win. Once again, at the end of the football game, we had a chance to win. But we have to make more plays.”

With the slant of the field on their side, it was the special teams unit that made the most explosive play of the day when Quadree Henderson scurried through Miami tacklers for an 89-yard kickoff return to the two-yard line. Nate Peterman threw a touchdown pass to Scott Orndoff on the very next play, and then a successful two-point conversion from a Peterman rush pushed the score to a 29-18 late in the fourth quarter.

A Peterman rush to pay dirt two possessions later capped a 4-play, 41-yard drive to make it a 29-24 game with just 2:34 left, but an unsuccessful onside kick sealed Pitt’s fate. This will be the sixth straight year with at least four losses in a season.

Peterman finished his day with 142 yards on 13 of 27 with one touchdown and one interception.

“We are going in the right direction,” Narduzzi said.  “Our kids are playing with an attitude, they are giving everything that you ask for and more.  I couldn’t be more proud.

“We’re not where we want to be.  We need to win some of these big games, and we play 12 games here, and you’re not going to be there until you win all 12 of them.”

Pitt will now wait to see what bowl game they will be invited to as the regular season comes to an end. That bowl game announcement will be determined Dec. 6.

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