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Freshmen lead Pitt to victory against Marshall

True+freshman+wide+receiver+Maurice+Ffrench+%282%29+scored+his+first+career+touchdown+against+Marshall+Saturday+night.+Matt+Hawley+%7C+Staff+Photographer
True freshman wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) scored his first career touchdown against Marshall Saturday night. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

True freshman wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) scored his first career touchdown against Marshall Saturday night. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

True freshman wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) scored his first career touchdown against Marshall Saturday night. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

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In its first four games, the Pitt football team relied almost exclusively on its returning starters and upperclassmen while battling to a 2-2 record.

Against Marshall on Saturday, though, it was the Pitt freshmen talent that carried the team in the first half of the Panthers’ 43-27 victory. But what should have been a blowout win punctuated by the freshmen was threatened by Pitt’s consistent inability to maintain a sufficient defensive line in the second half.

Late in the first quarter, Pitt took over at its own 4-yard line and inserted Chawntez Moss into the game. The first-year tailback took a handoff on first down and exploded up the middle of the field for a 41-yard gain. After an incompletion by quarterback Nathan Peterman, Moss then showcased his agility on a 21-yard run to move the Panthers deep into Marshall territory.

“In practice, Coach [Andre] Powell tells us that if you’re hot, we’re going to keep you in the game,” said Moss, one of three freshmen who helped score 27 points for Pitt in the first half. “I was doing well, so I feel I was given the best opportunity to be productive on offense.”

Moss finished the game with 12 carries for a team-leading 97 yards, one week after rushing for 47 yards and his first collegiate touchdown on only seven carries against North Carolina. But he wasn’t the only first-year player making a big impact.

Two plays later from the Thundering Herd’s 11-yard line, Pitt handed the ball to true freshman wide receiver Maurice Ffrench on a jet sweep –– usually a play reserved for sophomore Quadree Henderson. Ffrench spun past a defender and into the end zone for his first career touchdown, giving the Panthers a 20-0 lead late in the first quarter.

“It was good to see Ffrench on a nice spin move — him getting an opportunity to get the ball in his hands as well,” Pat Narduzzi, Pitt football head coach, said. “He’s trying to backup Quadree on some of those jet sweeps, and it was great to get another rookie in there and make some plays.”

With 53 seconds left in the first half, redshirt freshman Tre Tipton hauled in his first career touchdown on a 15-yard fade to the right corner of the end zone to give Pitt a 27-0 halftime lead.

In the second half, the defense that had been so stout in the first half sprung a massive leak. After five punts in five possessions in the first half, the Thundering Herd began stampeding down the field after the break, while the Panthers offered little to no resistance.

Quarterback Chase Litton put Marshall on the board with a 15-yard touchdown pass on the Herd’s first possession of the third quarter, then Anthony Anderson punched in an 11-yard touchdown run after a successful onside kick from Marshall.

Just like that, all the freshmen’s work to get the lead was slipping away when Pitt’s advantage shrunk from 27 to 14 without even getting the ball back.

The Panthers added three points on Chris Blewitt’s 20-yard field goal, but the Herd kept storming back. Pitt’s lapse on defense allowed Litton to fire an 83-yard touchdown to Michael Clark on the first play of the third quarter, cutting the Herd’s deficit to 10 with a full quarter left to play.

Again, Pitt showed an inability to defend deep routes, getting burned repeatedly for gains of 40-plus yards for the third week in a row.

After Marshall made it a 30-27 game with just over four minutes to play, the Panthers were in danger of blowing a 27-point halftime lead.

The Panthers needed just three yards to pick up a first down and end the game, or else the Herd would get the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead.

Against Penn State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina, Pitt refused to take a risk and failed to convert on the critical third down chances. If not for Ryan Lewis’ interception in the end zone against the Nittany Lions, the Panthers could have easily lost all three games.

Peterman must have been tired of the criticism.

Rather than playing it safe, he went for it all, heaving a deep ball for junior wide receiver Jester Weah, who outmuscled a defender and rumbled down the sideline for the game-clinching 54-yard touchdown.

“We weren’t going to run it up the middle again and punt it. We wanted to finish the game,” Narduzzi said. “It was Coach [Matt] Canada’s call, and I agreed.”

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Freshmen lead Pitt to victory against Marshall