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Pitt rallies late to beat Georgia Tech on Homecoming

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Pitt used a 74-yard touchdown pass, a crucial fourth down stop and a field goal as time expired to beat Georgia Tech 37-34 on Saturday at Heinz Field.

The college football gods are a fickle bunch.

Their presence in Pitt’s 37-34 victory over Georgia Tech at Heinz Field Saturday was omnipotent.

In a rollercoaster ride from jump to finish, both teams switched leads three times in the 4th quarter; and after a crucial failed 4th down attempt by the Yellow Jackets with just under three minutes left in the game, Pitt’s Chris Blewitt grabbed the lead that counted most, converting a game-winning 31-yard field goal that just barely snuck through after clanging the right upright.

The win marks the Panthers (4-2) first in ACC play this year.

“With all the ups and downs in that game, and we had the lead the whole team and then all of a sudden the tables switch, but our kids didn’t stop believing,” said coach Pat Narduzzi.  “We continued to pound and we played Pittsburgh tough today.”

The Panthers play of the game came just four plays prior to the field goal, when Georgia Tech running back Dedrick Mills was gang tackled by Tyrique Jarrett and Matt Galambos for no gain on a 4th and 1 play from the Tech 34-yard line with just 1:47 left on the clock.

“The 4th and 1 stop at the end in their own territory, which was a gutsy call on their part,” coach explained.  “Tyrique and (Shakir) Soto and Galambus, they really cleaned that whole tackle up.  Those guys in the A-gap, it was critical.  Players made plays when we needed it.”

“If I had to do it over again at the end of the game, I would have probably still gone for it, but I would have called a different play,” said a deflated Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.

Despite its late success in stuffing Tech’s run game, Pitt’s defense allowed 241 rushing yards on the day, and struggled to close the door on a Yellow Jackets team that was down 21-10 midway through the 2nd quarter when the Panthers’ Quadree Henderson scored on a 10-yard sweep that capped a 9-play, 69-yard drive.

Pass and run, normally a juxtaposition in head coach Paul Johnson’s game plan worked hand in hand Saturday, as ‘Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas went 7 of 10 for 130 yards with a touchdown, a 31-yard pass to Ricky Jeune that made it a 21-17 deficit with just under five minutes in the game.

On the ensuing drive, Thomas made two crucial passes, including a 29-yard connection to Clinton Lynch that lined up Georgia Tech for a 41-yard field goal, making it an improbable 21-20 Pitt lead at the break.

“We felt like we could do a lot offensively,” said Georgia Tech receiver Brad Stewart.  “We had a good scheme, but we just had to get a little bit more.  We left some things out there.”

Pitt, as is consistent on the season, put together a tough to beat offensive performance, racking up 407 total yards with quarterback Nate Peterman serving as the catalyst, posting a strong 14 of 20 for 192 yards and a touchdown, a 74-yard pass that was first deflected then caught by a streaking Scott Orndoff with just 3:50 left, tying the game at 34 a-piece.

The touchdown pass that will surely be talked about during water cooler time Monday morning was followed just three plays after Georgia Tech took its first lead of the game on a JJ Green 10-yard scamper that capped a 6-play, 39-yard drive, and the final time the Yellow Jackets would see the end zone.

“It’s a gut-wrencher.  It was a tough one to lose,” stated Johnson.  “My thought process was that we had a chance with two or two and a half minutes left on fourth and six inches to try and get a first down and win the game, but it backfired.  We didn’t make it.  Give them credit, they made the play.  We fought and clawed our way back in it, took the lead and then they score on a tipped pass.”

A Running Group Effort
Running back by committee was the name of the game for the Panthers on the ground attack with a total of nine players getting at least a tote, and James Conner leading the pack with 14 carries for 60 yards. 

Three Panthers found pay dirt, including Henderson, Qadree Ollison and the most unlikely, tackle Brian O’Neill who opened the scoring for Pitt, capping a 6-play, 75-yard drive on a fake screen lateral from Peterman that went 24-yards with the big fellow following a sea of seven blockers.

“That was the first touchdown I scored since my high school championship game, but this one meant more to me,” said the converted tight end O’Neill.  “Our motto is to do your job and to do your job well, and my job on that play was to just catch the ball and score.”

Georgia Tech also used nine total rushers, with Clinton Lynch leading the way, rushing just four times for 64 yards.  Only Lynch and Green managed to score from the Yellow Jackets’ ground campaign.

Sweep Emotions
For those keeping count at home, the Panthers rushed the ball a total of 42 times and 19 of those times ran a sweep play, and just three of those plays were stopped for no gain or negative yardage.

Qadree Henderson, Chawntez Moss and George Aston made their living from outside the tackles, tallying up a combined 16 carries for 90 yards.

Jordan Whitehead, another beneficiary of the sweep style, also made a triumphant return to the playing field, getting one carry for seven yards.  Whitehead missed last game due to personal reasons.

After the Spread
The Panthers came into this game as 6 point favorites.  The over/under was 51.5. 

With today’s loss against the spread, Pitt is now 1-4-1 after the spread.  The over has covered in 5 of Pitt’s 6 games with just the under hitting in week 1 against Villanova.

Lines and O/U provided by LV Superbook.

Next Up
Pitt will travel to Charlottesville to face Virginia in another ACC duel.  Kickoff for that game is set for 12:30 PM.

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