Pitt falls to Oklahoma State, 45-38, in weather-delayed shootout in Stillwater


Pitt gave Oklahoma State a fight but came up just short on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer.

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was right to be worried about Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington during the week leading up to Saturday’s game.

“They’ve got this James Washington, No. 28, that can run down the field, and we’re talking about clapping,” Narduzzi said after fielding a question about his team’s clapping signals against Penn State during his Wednesday media teleconference.

After the way Washington shredded Pitt’s defense for 296 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Narduzzi may wish he had spent even more time worrying about him.

Oklahoma State held off a valiant effort from the Panthers –– along with a one hour, 58-minute lightning delay –– to win a 45-38 shootout in Stillwater. And if the Cowboys were still feeling the negative effects of last week’s unthinkable 30-27 loss to Central Michigan, they put it all behind them on the first play of the game.

Mason Rudolph –– Oklahoma State’s 6-foot-5, 235-pound, NFL-ready junior quarterback –– launched a 91-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to a wide-open Washington to give the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead.

But the Panthers responded in a hurry, needing only four plays to drive 70 yards down the field and tie the game up on Quadree Henderson’s 10-yard touchdown run. Redshirt junior James Conner set up Henderson’s score with a 32-yard scamper on his first carry of the game.

The teams traded field goals, then Rudolph methodically led the Cowboys down the field before going back to the deep ball on a 99-yard touchdown drive.

He floated a beautiful 28-yard deep ball across the field to wide receiver Chris Lacy, then connected with Washington on a 29-yard fade pass two plays later to give the Cowboys a 17-10 lead.

Pitt went three-and-out on its next possession, then it was more of the same on Oklahoma State’s next drive as Rudolph continued to air it out. Washington outran Pitt cornerback Avonte Maddox on another go-route for a 50-yard reception, setting up Rennie Childs’ one-yard touchdown run to make it 24-10.

Desperately in need of a spark, the Panthers found one in the familiar form of James Conner.

Peterman lobbed a pass to the 2014 ACC Player of the Year and cancer survivor, who turned it into a 55-yard catch-and-run, taking it deep into Cowboys territory. But Oklahoma State stopped Conner twice inside the 3-yard line, then stuffed Peterman at the 1-yard line on third down to set up a crucial fourth-and-goal situation.

Conner took the handoff and leapt over the line, just barely breaking the plane to make it a one-score game with just under five minutes left in the first half.

It didn’t take long for the Cowboys to seize control of the momentum once again. Childs made Pitt cornerback Ryan Lewis miss on the outside, then rumbled 67 yards down the sideline for his second touchdown of the game to give Oklahoma State a 31-17 lead.

The Cowboys began driving down the field again on their next possession, but Rudolph mishandled a snap and senior defensive lineman Shane Roy recovered the fumble for the Panthers.

Infused with new life, Pitt struck back quickly.

Peterman found redshirt junior wide receiver Jester Weah open over the middle on the first play of the drive and Weah did the rest, breaking a tackle and galloping into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown.

Despite giving up 372 passing yards to Rudolph and 228 receiving yards to Washington in the first half alone, the Panthers went into halftime trailing by only seven points.

After Pitt’s first drive of the second half stalled near midfield, the defense took matters into its own hands. Defensive end Ejuan Price sacked Rudolph inside the 5-yard line, forcing a fumble which linebacker Matt Galambos recovered and took into the end zone to tie the game at 31.

Again, the Panthers failed to get off the field on third down, and Rudolph –– who finished with a school record 540 yards passing –– continued to pick apart Pitt’s secondary. Childs’ third rushing touchdown of the game put Oklahoma State back on top, 38-31.

But Pitt refused to go away, marching up to midfield before faking out the Cowboys’ entire defense –– and the camera crew –– on 50-yard jet sweep touchdown run by Henderson to tie the game at 38.

After a one hour, 58-minute lightning delay, the teams resumed play at 8:42 p.m. and traded a pair of punts each. Then, one last deep ball from Rudolph put the game away.

Oklahoma State wide receiver Jhajuan Seales got free down the sideline for an 86-yard gain, setting up a one-yard touchdown run for Childs –– his fourth of the game –– to give the Cowboys a 45-38 lead with 1:28 to play.

Then, after driving the Panthers across midfield with under 30 seconds to play, Peterman threw an interception over the middle of the field to end Pitt’s comeback chances and Oklahoma State held on to win, 45-38.

The Panthers will travel next to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for a matchup with the defending ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday, Sept. 24, at 3:30 p.m.