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Cowboys crush Panthers, 59-21, in Pitt football’s worst loss at Heinz Field

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OSU fans cheer as receiver Marcell Ateman scores a touchdown in the first half of Pitt's 59-21 loss. (Photo by John Hamilton)

OSU fans cheer as receiver Marcell Ateman scores a touchdown in the first half of Pitt's 59-21 loss. (Photo by John Hamilton)

OSU fans cheer as receiver Marcell Ateman scores a touchdown in the first half of Pitt's 59-21 loss. (Photo by John Hamilton)

By David Leftwich | Senior Staff Writer

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As if last week’s loss to in-state rival Penn State wasn’t demoralizing enough, the Panthers were blown out in their worst loss ever at Heinz Field by the Oklahoma State Cowboys Saturday.

Senior quarterback Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys’ passing offense were too much for the Panthers, posting over 500 yards through the air in a 59-21 blowout win.

The Cowboys received the ball to start the game and Rudolph began his tremendous day by connecting twice for big gains.

With the ball at the Panthers’ 20-yard line, sophomore running back Justice Hill found a huge hole to the right and ran untouched into the endzone to put the Cowboys ahead 7-0.

The Panthers followed with a quick three-and-out, but a booming 63-yard punt from redshirt senior Ryan Winslow backed the Cowboys up to their own 4-yard line.

After two short gains, a third down pass interference penalty on sophomore defensive back Dane Jackson kept the Cowboys’ drive alive. Rudolph then hit redshirt freshman Dillon Stoner down the seam for a 54-yard touchdown, putting the Cowboys up 14-0 after two drives.

[Click here for a gallery of Saturday’s game]

Coach Pat Narduzzi argues with a ref.(Photo by Kyleen Considine)

“Coming into the game we knew what they were going to do [on offense], but they executed and we didn’t,” senior cornerback Avonte Maddox said after the game. “Next week we’re looking to get better.”

Stalling again on offense, the Panthers punted the ball back to the Cowboys. On third down, Rudolph avoided two sacks and gunned the ball downfield to redshirt senior Marcell Ateman for a 69-yard touchdown, putting the Cowboys up 21-0 by the end of the first quarter.

After a holding penalty erased a 33-yard run from running back Chawntez Moss and moved back the Panther offense, the team tried to keep the drive going, but they did not convert on a fourth-and-5 near midfield.

The Cowboys offense picked up right where it left off.

Rudolph found junior wide receiver Jalen McCleskey for 21 yards to move the Cowboys deep into Panther territory. Later in the drive, Rudolph hit McCleskey again for an 8-yard touchdown to push their lead to 28-0.

Receiving the ball after a Panther three-and-out, Rudolph made quick work in the next drive — finding McCleskey again on a crossing route. He outran the Panthers’ secondary for a 40-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 35-0.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi replaced Browne with redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci as quarterback to try to ignite the offense.

Quarterback Ben DiNucci scrambles in the second half. (Photo by Kyleen Considine)

On his first snap, DiNucci hit junior wide receiver Quadree Henderson for a quick out to the left. Henderson streaked down the sideline for a 74-yard gain, giving the Panthers a first down in the red zone. After two short gains, Moss took a third down rush for six yards into the endzone to put the Panthers on the board, 35-7.

“[DiNucci] came in and gave us a spark like we thought he could,” Narduzzi said after the game. “That’s why we made the decision to put him in.”

In the Cowboys’ next drive, Rudolph hit senior wide receiver James Washington for a 23-yard play and a 31-yard play. Amendola finished up the Cowboys’ drive with a 15-yard touchdown run to restore their 35-point lead at 42-7.  

In another quick drive after another Panther three-and-out, Rudolph tormented the Panther secondary again. After throwing for two first downs, he hit McCleskey on a crossing route and streaked to the endzone for a 48-yard touchdown. The Cowboys extended their lead to 49-7.

The Panthers found offensive rhythm with DiNucci in their next drive. He completed three passes over 10 yards as they drove deep into Cowboy territory. On third-and-10 from the 15, DiNucci found redshirt junior Rafael Araujo-Lopes who broke two tackles on his way into the endzone, 49-14.

Cornerback Dane Jackson breaks up a pass. (Photo by John Hamilton)

Putting up over 500 yards of offense — 423 of them through the air — the Cowboys dominated the Panthers in the first half and entered halftime with a 49-14 lead.

After receiving the ball to start the second half, the Panthers got to the Cowboys’ 26 with a 16-yard pass and a scramble for 23 yards. After an incomplete pass, the Cowboys sacked DiNucci for a loss of 15 yards, forcing the Panthers to punt.

The Panthers finally slowed down the Cowboys’ offense in their next possession with an interception from Maddox near the goal line. The Cowboys quickly regained momentum — redshirt junior linebacker Justin Phillips intercepted DiNucci’s second down pass and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown, 56-14.

After a 25-yard shovel pass to redshirt senior tight end Matt Flanagan, DiNucci threw an interception in Cowboy territory to end the drive.

“I made some good plays out there, but ultimately I turned the ball over twice,” DiNucci said. “I had one last week so that’s something I’ve really tried to work on after fall camp and then into the season.”

The Cowboys began their next drive with redshirt junior Taylor Cornelius at quarterback, relieving Rudolph, who put up 497 yards and five touchdowns in less than three quarters of action. The teams traded punts and Panthers forced a Cowboy fourth down in Cornelius’s second drive.

Mishandling a high snap, the ball flew past redshirt junior punter Zach Sinor into the end zone and freshman Jason Pinnock fell on the ball for a Panther touchdown, 56-21.

Following a Cowboy 25-yard field goal to push their lead to 59-21, DiNucci and the Panther offense found early success moving the ball. Once the drive stalled on the Cowboy 31-yard line, first-year Alex Kessman on to kick a 49-yard field goal that missed wide right.

After a short Cowboy possession, the game ended with the Cowboys defeating the Panthers, 59-21.

“The game plan was solid, the game plan was sound,” redshirt junior defensive back Dennis Briggs said after the game. “It was just us executing. I thought the biggest message after the game was look at yourself in the mirror.”

The Panthers look to bounce back from this loss next week as they open ACC play at Georgia Tech in a 12:20 p.m. matchup.

“ACC play starting next week in Atlanta, and that’s where our focus will go,” Narduzzi said.

Pitt fans celebrate after their first touchdown of the game. (Photo by Kyleen Considine)

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Cowboys crush Panthers, 59-21, in Pitt football’s worst loss at Heinz Field