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Miami squashes Pitt’s division title hopes in 51-28 pounding

Pitt+quarterback+Nathan+Peterman+threw+for+2%2C855+yards+and+27+touchdowns+in+the+2016+season.+Jeff+Ahearn+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer
Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman threw for 2,855 yards and 27 touchdowns in the 2016 season. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman threw for 2,855 yards and 27 touchdowns in the 2016 season. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman threw for 2,855 yards and 27 touchdowns in the 2016 season. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

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Going into Saturday’s game, the Pitt football team had slim hopes of making it to the ACC Championship game.

But the Miami Hurricanes extinguished the Panthers’ aspirations in convincing fashion in an excruciating 51-28 win.

Miami (5-4 overall, 2-3 ACC) put an end to its four-game losing streak with the resounding victory over the Panthers (5-4 overall, 2-3 ACC), their 18th win in the last 20 meetings between the teams.

The Hurricanes started by doing what teams have done against the Panthers all year –– going deep. Quarterback Brad Kaaya connected with Ahmmon Richards for a 41-yard pass to bring Miami inside Pitt’s red zone.

Two plays later, Kaaya dumped off a pass to tight end David Njoku, who leaped over a Pitt defender and flipped into the end zone for the first score of the game. Just over two minutes into the game, the Hurricanes led, 7-0. But the lead didn’t last long.

Pitt sophomore Quadree Henderson fielded the ensuing kickoff at the goal line, followed his blockers, ran through a tackle and dashed 100 yards to the end zone for his NCAA-leading third kick return touchdown of the season. Just like that, the game was tied, 7-7.

Miami came right back out and resumed its aerial attack on Pitt’s secondary.

Kaaya led them right back down the field and inside the Panthers’ 10-yard line. A touchdown on a fade to wide receiver Stacy Coley on third-and-goal gave the Hurricanes a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter.

Pitt’s next drive stalled at Miami’s 48-yard line, then head coach Pat Narduzzi decided to get tricky.

Instead of trying to pin the Hurricanes deep in their own territory, Panthers punter Ryan Winslow heaved a pass about 30 yards downfield to Jordan Whitehead. Miami was ready for the fake, and the pass fell incomplete, giving the Hurricanes the ball near midfield.

Miami took advantage of the great field position, easily marching back down the field for another score. This time, though, Pitt’s defense held up inside the 5-yard line, and the Hurricanes almost backed themselves all the way out of field goal range.

First, an offensive pass interference overturned Kaaya’s third touchdown pass, then a false start moved Miami back to the 23-yard line. After a four-yard run on third down, a holding penalty wiped out kicker Michael Badgley’s 36-yard field goal, but he still knocked in a 46-yard attempt through the rain to push the Hurricanes’ lead to 10.

Pitt’s offense woke up on its next possession as quarterback Nathan Peterman began spreading the ball around to his receivers. Running back James Conner capped off the drive by racing untouched into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown run.

All of a sudden, it was a three-point game just over a minute into the second quarter.

Pitt’s defense still couldn’t stop Miami from scoring on its next drive, but it did keep the Hurricanes out of the end zone. Badgley was perfect on another long field goal attempt, drilling one from 48 yards to give Miami a 20-14 lead.

The Panthers found themselves backed up on their next drive after a botched snap and faced a third-and-14. But Peterman fired a pinpoint pass across the middle of the field, and redshirt freshman wide receiver Tre Tipton took a huge hit and held onto the ball for the first down.

A 22-yard run by Henderson moved Pitt into Miami territory, then sophomore fullback George Aston took a shovel pass 23 yards into the end zone for his sixth touchdown of the season. With 8:45 left in the first half, the Panthers had their first lead, 21-20.

The Hurricanes regained the lead on their next possession, but that wasn’t the worst news for Pitt –– both starting senior defensive tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto were taken out by a cut block on the same play.

After they limped off the field, Miami pounded the ball freely up the middle and Kaaya punched in a 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.

The Panthers moved the ball down the field again on their next drive, but Weah dropped a would-be touchdown on third down, and Narduzzi decided to punt it away from the Hurricanes’ 38-yard line. The teams entered the half with Miami leading, 27-21.

Pitt received the second half kickoff with a chance to take the lead, but Henderson fumbled on the second play of the drive and the Hurricanes recovered, taking over at the Panthers’ 8-yard line. Kaaya threw his third touchdown pass of the day on third-and-goal to make it 34-21.

The teams traded punts, then Peterman again bailed Pitt’s offense out on third-and-long.

First, Peterman broke free for a 20-yard scramble on third-and-9 from the Panthers’ 18-yard line. He then found Weah for a 33-yard gain on another third-and-9 to bring Pitt inside Miami’s 10.

But after bringing his team so close to the end zone, Peterman undid all the work he did to get them there. The redshirt senior fired a critical interception on second-and-goal, just his fourth interception of the year, killing Pitt’s promising drive.

After a defensive stop by Pitt, Peterman again led the team on a long drive only to come away with nothing.

Facing another third-and-9, this time at the Hurricanes’ 13-yard line, Peterman took a sack for a loss of 12 yards, then senior kicker Chris Blewitt missed a 41-yard field goal wide left.

Miami took advantage of the Panthers’ mistakes with a quick scoring drive. Instead of a one-score game, Kaaya’s fourth touchdown pass pushed the Hurricanes’ lead to 20 early in the fourth quarter.

But Pitt refused to quit. On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, Peterman found Weah wide open down the field after a blown coverage by Miami for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive.

After another stop by Pitt’s defense forced a punt, the Hurricanes did what the Panthers could not, pinning them back at their own 1-yard line. Pitt was unable to pick up a first down, and Narduzzi punted the ball away on fourth-and-1.

Miami ran out most of the clock on its next drive and added to its lead with a 25-yard field goal by Badgley, then put it away with a 55-yard touchdown run by Mark Walton to ice the 51-28 win.

The Panthers will stay on the road next week for another tough conference matchup against the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in Clemson, South Carolina, on Saturday, Nov. 12. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

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Miami squashes Pitt’s division title hopes in 51-28 pounding