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Pitt grabs Coastal lead in 23-13 win at No. 25 Virginia

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — With an opportunity to separate itself in the race for the ACC Coastal title, the Virginia football team failed to overcome myriad mental and physical errors and its depleted defense was unable to hold up in the second half of a 23-13 loss to Pittsburgh on a soggy Friday night.
The No. 25 Cavaliers had a three-game winning streak end and relinquished ownership of first place in the Coastal, falling into third. The Panthers, meanwhile, moved into first in part by gashing Virginia for 254 rushing yards, 190 coming in the second half, at Scott Stadium.

“This exposed our weakness, and that’s when we played outside our system,” Cavaliers Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We didn’t play clean enough and didn’t execute well enough to take control of the game.”

In front of an announced crowd of 36,256, Pitt tailback Darrin Hall rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns. His final scoring run of 75 yards gave the Panthers a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Pitt (5-4, 4-1) botched the extra point attempt, but Alex Kessman’s 53-yard field goal produced the final margin with 4:25 to play.

“It’s very tough to lose the way we did and to lose at home,” Virginia linebacker Charles Snowden said. “It hurts a lot.”

Injuries plagued the Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2) throughout, leaving the defense without four starters for portions of the second half. Penalties added to the Cavaliers’ woes — they were flagged 10 times for 80 yards.

Already playing without ailing linebacker Robert Snyder, Virginia lost senior safety Juan Thornhill in the first half and defensive end Mandy Alonso and safety Joey Blount, both sophomores, in the third quarter.

Sophomore De’Vante Cross replaced Thornhill, and freshman Aaron Famui took over for Alonso. Blount had to be helped off the field with two minutes left in the third quarter favoring his right leg, replaced by sophomore Nick Grant.

“It’s very tough when it comes to depth, playmaking and all those things,” junior linebacker Jordan Mack said. “But it just has to be the next man up mentality.”

The shorthanded unit provided little resistance on the Panthers’ go-ahead scoring drive of 84 yards on 15 plays over 8:40 in the third quarter. Hall rumbled into the end zone from two yards with Cross wrapped around his waist to give Pitt a 14-10 advantage just before the period expired.

For the Panthers, the game was less than one week after 11 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood Saturday morning.

Players wore “Pittsburgh Strong” helmet stickers during Friday night’s game in honor of the victims of the attack, believed to be the deadliest against the Jewish community in U.S. history, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The tragedy struck an all too familiar tone with many Virginia players who were finishing practice when they learned of the violence stemming from a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. Later that afternoon, a man drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

Before Friday’s game, members of the Virginia alumni association handed out “We Stand With Pittsburgh” stickers instead of its usual buttons supporting the Cavaliers. Then immediately before the national anthem there was a moment of silence.

Pitt played its game last Saturday, beating Duke, 54-45, at Heinz Field only hours following the shooting at Tree of Life, which is roughly two miles from the school’s campus in the city’s Oakland neighborhood.

The Cavaliers held Pitt mostly in check in the first half and took a 10-7 lead into the locker room courtesy of Brian Delaney’s 29-yard field goal with one second left in the second quarter. The drive included a targeting penalty assessed to Panthers defensive end Patrick Jones II with six seconds to go.

The only turnover of the half belonged to Pitt, which had given up a pass on fourth and three that would have resulted in a first down. But safety Dennis Briggs ripped the ball loose from Virginia tight end Evan Butts, and the Panthers took over at their 21 with 14:55 left in the second quarter.

The turnover didn’t yield any points, however, after Virginia forced a punt when Snowden sacked quarterback Kenny Pickett on third and 10.

Monsoon-like conditions in the opening minutes of the first quarter made footing an adventure for both teams, but the Panthers assembled a scoring drive on their opening possession as rain moved out of the area. Hall provided the touchdown on a 41-yard inside run with 6:09 to go.

But on Virginia’s first snap on the ensuing series, quarterback Bryce Perkins completed a 42-yard pass to Terrell Jana down the right sideline for the tying touchdown. The sophomore wide receiver beat Phil Campbell III on the deep route and went untouched into the end zone.

Perkins, who was sacked five times, was impressed by the Pittsburgh defense.

“They were physical,” he said. “Their safeties came down hard. But, I mean, ultimately it’s on us. They didn’t do anything we didn’t know they were going to do.”

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