Orange squeeze out win over Panthers, 27-24


Quarterback Max Browne went 15 for 22 with 161 yards before an injury took him out of the game. (Photo by Anna Bongardino / Assistant Visual Editor)

Down three on their own 5-yard line with 50 seconds remaining, the Panther football team needed to drive the ball into field goal range to send the game into overtime. Their backup and third string quarterbacks each took snaps, but both failed to launch a comeback final drive, leading to a 27-24 Syracuse victory.

In a game where each team’s punter saw a lot of action, Pitt (2-4, 0-2 ACC) couldn’t make enough big plays in the second half to compete with a Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 ACC) passing attack that put up more than 350 yards at the Carrier Dome Saturday.

Receiving the ball to start the game, the Orange’s passing attack got off to a quick start. On the second play of the drive, junior quarterback Eric Dungey completed a 32-yard strike down the right side of the field to senior wide receiver Steve Ishmael to get the drive moving.

The Panther defense stepped up and stifled the drive in the red zone, forcing the Orange into a 26-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

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The two teams traded punts three times after this, and the Panther offense began to move the ball as the first quarter came to a close with the Orange up 3-0.

In the first play to open up the second quarter, Pitt junior defensive back Jordan Whitehead took a handoff to the left and streaked down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-3.

The two teams traded punts, and once the Orange received the ball again, the Panther defense forced the Orange to punt the ball away for the fifth straight time.

The Panthers’ passing attack found some momentum in their next drive as redshirt senior Max Browne completed three straight first-down passes. The Orange defense eventually held-up the Panther offense, and freshman Alex Kessman converted a 49-yard field goal, 10-3.

In the ensuing Orange drive, the offense turned the ball over on downs but the Panther offense couldn’t capitalize on the momentum and punted the ball away with 2:40 left in the half.

The Orange inserted their hurry-up offense and found success as they drove into Panther territory. Dungey found sophomore wide receiver Devin Butler for a 32-yard touchdown pass to even up the score at 10 with 34 seconds left in the half.

To open up the second half, Browne and the Panther offense moved the ball through the air and found themselves inside the Orange’s 30-yard line. Syracuse broke up a third-down pass to senior Matt Flanagan to stall the drive, and Kessman came on and converted a 42-yard field goal, 13-10.

Using an even mix of run and pass plays, the Orange responded with their own drive down the field. A roughing the passer penalty on the Panthers kept the drive alive and the Orange took advantage.

On second down from the Panther 10-yard line, Dungey found a hole in the middle of the Panther defense and scrambled for a touchdown to put the Orange up, 17-13.

Browne was injured after taking a big sack on the second play of the next Panther possession, forcing redshirt junior Ben DiNucci to take over at quarterback. The Panthers didn’t convert on the next play and punted the ball away.

Dungey and the Orange offense picked up where they left off and easily moved down the field on the Panther defense. Inside the Panther 30-yard line, the Panther defense backed up the Orange offense and forced them to kick a field goal to extend their lead to seven, 20-13.

DiNucci moved the chains to start the next Panther possession, but the Orange defense held up the Panther drive as the third quarter expired with the Orange leading 20-13.

Kessman drilled a 56-yard field goal — a Carrier Dome record — that bounced up and in off the crossbar at the start of the fourth quarter to reduce the Panther deficit to four, 20-16.

The Panther defense couldn’t stop the Orange on the next drive as they worked their way to the Panther 36-yard line over the course of 10 plays. On second-and-9, Dungey hit Ishmael deep down the right sideline for a touchdown to extend their lead, 27-16.

DiNucci and the Panthers responded and moved deep into Orange territory. From the Orange 19-yard line, redshirt junior Qadree Ollison took a run down the middle for a touchdown and Whitehead scored on the 2-point conversion to cut the Panther deficit to three with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter, 27-24.

A combination of big plays from Dungey and runs from junior running back Dontae Strickland led the Orange into the red zone. Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Panther 5-yard line, the Orange did not convert on a shuttle pass and the Panthers regained possession with 56 seconds remaining.

DiNucci found sophomore Maurice Ffrench downfield with 26 seconds remaining, but took a sack and lost his helmet, forcing the Panthers to burn their last timeout and put in first-year Kenny Pickett at quarterback.

As Pickett completed a pass down the field to the Panther 28-yard line, time expired in the game, cementing the 27-24 Panther defeat.

The Panthers will look to earn their first ACC win of the season next Saturday as they take on No. 24 NC State in a noon matchup at Heinz Field.