Hokies crush Panthers’ bowl hopes, win 20-14


The Pitt football team reacts to losing the game after Virginia Tech stopped the Panthers at the goal-line. (Photo by John Hamilton | Managing Editor)

The Pitt football team couldn’t convert on four straight plays at the goal line with a minute to go in the fourth quarter — losing 20-14 to the Virginia Tech Hokies and any chance at a bowl game.

“We’re on the 1-yard line, we’ve got four tries, we’ve got to score,” first-year quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “That’s on us, and everyone will take ownership of it and move on.”

The Panthers (4-7 overall, 2-5 ACC) and the Hokies (8-3 overall, 4-3 ACC) squared off in a defensive, low-scoring game, but the Panthers couldn’t piece together enough offense to win at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The Hokies’ offense opened the game with early success from first-year quarterback Josh Jackson’s running and passing game. Moving deep into the red zone, Jackson rushed the ball up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown to put the Hokies up 7-0 with 11:22 left in the quarter.

Both sides traded punts after this score, but the Panthers responded in their second offensive drive.

[Click for a full gallery of Saturday’s game.]

First-year quarterback Kenny Pickett takes out the referee as he runs the ball for the Panthers. (Photo by John Hamilton | Managing Editor)

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci completed four passes on the drive for 54 yards to spark the offense. A 13-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes then tied the game at 7.

Forcing a Hokies punt in their next possession, the Panthers offense took the field with a chance to claim the lead.

On just the second play of the drive, DiNucci threw an interception deep downfield to hand the ball right back to the Hokies. After a first down to start the Hokies’ offensive drive, the first quarter came to a close tied at 7-7.

Jackson led the Hokies’ offense downfield to open the second quarter, but he came up one yard short from securing another first down for the team. The Hokies settled for a 30-yard field goal to retake the lead 10-7.

Pickett replaced DiNucci in the next Panther drive, but quickly punted it back to the Hokies after a three-and-out.

“I think [Pickett’s] probably a better passer at this point,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He did give us a shot with some of the balls he threw.”

The two sides traded punts again, but on the next Virginia Tech drive, an interception by senior defensive back Avonte Maddox gave the Panthers’ offense a prime opportunity to score with a short field remaining.

Pickett moved the offense into the red zone, but the Hokies stopped the Panthers on a third-and-short, forcing the offense to settle for a field goal. On a 33-yard attempt, first-year Alex Kessman’s field goal kick went wide-right to keep the score at 10-7 with fewer than two minutes left in the half.

After the Hokies quickly punted the ball, time expired as the Panthers drove the ball downfield to end the half at 10-7.

Both teams struggled to move the ball to start the third quarter. After trading punts, the Hokies made progress over the course of 12 plays. Facing a fourth-and-3 from the Panther 27, though, Jackson threw an incomplete pass to turn the ball over on downs.

Gaining momentum off of the turnover, junior Darrin Hall took a 44-yard shovel pass on the second play of the drive to move the Panthers to the Virginia Tech 29-yard line.

Running back Darrin Hall tries to break a tackle. (Photo by John Hamilton / Managing Editor)

Over the next three plays, the Panthers didn’t gain a first down and decided to go for it on the fourth down. On a trick play, redshirt senior punter Ryan Winslow threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Nathan Bossory. This put the Panthers up 14-10 to start the fourth quarter.

“It was a heck of a catch, and I knew he’d make the play,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve seen the guy make plays on the scout field for three years now, and I had no doubts if the ball was near him, he’d catch it and come down with it.”

Responding with their own scoring drive, Jackson quickly led the Hokies down the field. On a third-and-8 from the Panther 10-yard line, Maddox deflected a pass in the end zone, forcing the Hokies into a 27-yard field goal, 14-13.

Pickett threw an interception on the third play of the Panthers’ next drive, giving the Hokies possession with a short field at the Panther 40-yard line.

Weah breaks a tackle before running to the 1-yard line. (Photo by John Hamilton / Managing Editor)

Jackson quickly made the Panthers pay, completing a 23-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Cam Phillips to give the Hokies a 20-13 edge with a little more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

After the teams traded punts, Pickett and the Panther offense took the field with fewer than two minutes to go in the game. Pickett found redshirt senior wide receiver Jester Weah streaking downfield for a 74-yard pass to push the offense to the Hokies’ 1-yard line.

Unable to convert on four straight plays at the goal line, the Panthers turned the ball over on downs as time expired to lose the game 20-14.

Officially ineligible for a bowl game, the Panthers play their final game of the season Friday, Nov. 24, against No. 2 Miami with kickoff set for noon at Heinz Field.