Yellow Jackets sting Panthers, 35-17


Ben DiNucci got his first start of the season against Georgia Tech, going 12 for 19 with 110 yards and one touchdown. (Photo by Wenhao Wu / Assistant Visual Editor)

With four separate opportunities to make the Yellow Jackets pay after turnovers, the Panther offense failed to convert any of these chances into points leading to Saturday’s 35-17 loss in their first ACC game of the season.

On the day, the Panther offense put up less than 200 yards and only one touchdown, while the Panther defense gave up more than 400 yards on the ground. Despite forcing four Yellow Jacket turnovers, the Panthers could not keep up — suffering a loss at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.

After the opening kickoff, redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci entered the game at quarterback for the Panthers — replacing redshirt senior Max Browne as the starter.

In the first drive for the Panthers, junior defensive back Jordan Whitehead returned from suspension and immediately made an impact, taking an end around for 30 yards down the field. Capping off the five play drive, DiNucci hit redshirt junior Qadree Ollison for a 28-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers up 7-0.

“I felt like I had a lot of energy out there,” Whitehead said after the game. “I kind of forgot how it felt.”

Whitehead recovered a Yellow Jacket fumble on the next drive at the Georgia Tech 33-yard line, but the Panthers didn’t make any offensive progress. Freshman Alex Kessman missed a 50-yard field goal, keeping the Panther lead at seven points.

On the next Yellow Jacket possession, their triple-option offense found its footing. After pushing the ball with their running attack, junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall took a snap to the right and outran the Panther defense down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown, joining Pitt on the board at 7-7.

Receiving the ball after a quick Panther three-and-out, the Yellow Jackets drove to the Panther 25-yard line as the first quarter ended tied at 7.

Over the course of the next two plays, Marshall ran the ball twice to the Panther one yard-line. With a first and goal, Marshall punched the ball in himself for a one-yard touchdown run, 14-7.

”When you don’t move the ball against Georgia Tech, the way they hold the ball, you’re in deep, deep trouble,” Narduzzi said.

The next Panther drive stalled, but their defense then quickly forced the Yellow Jackets to punt the ball away.

Junior Quadree Henderson received the Yellow Jacket punt on the right side of the field and immediately backtracked toward the left side of the field. Avoiding multiple tackles in the process, Henderson found a seam down the left side of the field and outran the Yellow Jacket special teams unit for an 80-yard punt return touchdown to tie the game at 14.

Seizing the momentum, senior defensive back Avonte Maddox recovered a Yellow Jacket fumble on the next drive. But even with good field position at their own 43-yard line, the Panther offense couldn’t capitalize and punted the ball away after a three and out.

The Yellow Jackets systematically drove down the field over the course of 13 plays in their next drive. Redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson capped off the drive with a five yard touchdown run up the middle, 21-14.

With only 52 seconds left in the half and the ball at their 25 yard-line, the Panthers quickly pushed the ball to the Georgia Tech 37-yard line. Kessman came on with only three seconds remaining and made a 55-yard field goal that just slipped through the uprights, ending the half with the Panthers down 21-17.

The two teams traded three and outs to start the second half. In their second possession of the half, the Yellow Jacket running game could not be stopped. Redshirt sophomore Quaide Weimerskirch finished the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run up the middle, 28-17.

Again, the Yellow Jackets forced a quick Panther punt, but soon after fumbled the ball on a hand-off up the middle and the Panthers recovered the ball on their 47-yard line.

After two Panther plays, the third quarter ended with the Panthers facing a third down and the Yellow Jackets holding a 28-17 lead. On the next play, DiNucci took a 15-yard sack to force another Panther punt.

“It all comes down to execution,” DiNucci said. “We didn’t execute — other than the first drive — all day as an offense.”

The defense held firm and forced a Yellow Jacket three and out, but after receiving the ball, the Panther offense short-circuited with a fumble, allowing the Yellow Jackets to regain possession.

With the Yellow Jackets on the doorstep of the endzone inside of the 10-yard line, the Yellow Jackets fumbled the ball for the fourth time today and the Panthers recovered the ball.

To try and spark the offense, redshirt senior Max Browne took over the game at quarterback, but the Panthers were again forced to punt.

The first play after the Panthers punt, Benson burst through the Panther defense for a 47-yard rushing touchdown to extend the Yellow Jacket lead to 18 points, 35-17 with 5:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers turned the ball over on downs in their next possession, but after forcing a Yellow Jacket punt, the team had one last chance to score. Browne and the Panther offense couldn’t make any progress and time expired.

“I thought our kids fought their tails off,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t question their effort, I question their execution.”

With a final score of 35-17, the Panthers fall to 1-3 with their first ACC loss of the season. Pitt returns home to Heinz Field next week as they face Rice in a 12 p.m. matchup.

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