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No ex’Cuse: Panthers beat Syracuse 44-37 after weather delay, overtime

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Junior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) receives a pass during the end of the second quarter.

Junior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) receives a pass during the end of the second quarter.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Junior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) receives a pass during the end of the second quarter.

By Nick Carlisano, Staff Writer

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Despite drizzly conditions and a poor passing attack, the Pitt football team refused to let anything rain on its homecoming parade. The senior running back tandem of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall carried the team to victory, and sophomore kicker Alex Kessman contributed a career performance to lead the Panthers to a 44-37 overtime victory over Syracuse.

“I couldn’t be prouder of that locker room in there. Those guys fought and fought and fought,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Our guys continue to believe and that talks about character.”

Ollison rushed for 192 yards and a touchdown, while Hall added 107 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Kessman was clutch all game long, hitting all three of his field goals from 54, 55 and 45 yards out.

“Those two tailbacks, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, those guys were unbelievable,” Narduzzi said. Of Kessman’s record-breaking day, he added, “Kessman was lights out. Incredible.”

But in the end, it was sophomore defensive back Therran Coleman who made the hero play, picking off Syracuse senior quarterback Eric Dungey on the Orange’s first play in overtime to preserve Pitt’s win. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Panthers, bringing the team’s record to 3-3 overall, 2-1 in the ACC.

Dungey and the Orange offense were already moving the football on their first drive when a pass interference call against Pitt junior safety Damar Hamlin put Syracuse inside the red zone. Six plays later, Dungey found sophomore tight end Aaron Hackett for a one-yard score.

The Pitt offense started to respond, driving the ball to about midfield, when first-year wideout Shocky-Jacques Louis coughed up the football on a sweep. Syracuse junior defensive end Alton Robinson forced the fumble to give his team the football on Pitt’s side of the field.

Dungey and his offense took advantage of Pitt’s turnover and put together a five-play, 42-yard drive in under two minutes to go up on the home team 14-0. A 29-yard Dungey rush placed the Orange at the 2-yard line, and the next play freshman running back Jarveon Howard plunged into the endzone for their second touchdown with 6:32 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers wasted absolutely no time responding to ‘Cuse. On the second play of the drive, sophomore QB Kenny Pickett handed the ball off to senior tailback Qadree Ollison. Ollison found a hole, broke a few tackles, and galloped into the end zone for a 69-yard Panther touchdown to cut his team’s deficit in half.

On Syracuse’s ensuing drive, the Panther defense found a way to get the homecoming crowd fired up. Senior Quintin Wirginis ferociously met QB Eric Dungey at the line of scrimmage, wrapped him up, and ripped the ball from his grasp. Junior cornerback Dane Jackson scooped up the ball and took it to the house for his second career touchdown to tie the contest at 14 with 4:21 on the clock.

It appeared a high-scoring affair would be in store for Heinz Field as the first quarter drew to a close, but rain came pouring down and both offenses slowed for several possessions. The Panther defense appeared to record a safety when sophomore corner Jason Pinnock forced Syracuse junior tailback Moe Neal into the endzone.

The call was overturned; however, the defensive stand gave the Panther offense good field position, and Kessman booted the ball an astounding 54 yards through the uprights to give Pitt its first lead, 17-14.

Pitt’s defense made its mark once more on the ensuing possession. At about midfield, Dungey gave Pitt junior linebacker Amir Watts a homecoming surprise when he practically gifted him with an interception. The Panther offense was again unable to move the ball, but Kessman bailed them out by one-upping himself with a 55-yard field goal to extend the lead to six. With this kick, Kessman broke the record for longest field goal at Heinz Field, both NCAA and NFL.

Syracuse added a field goal of its own when first-year kicker Andre Szmyt nailed a 33-yarder to cut the lead in half with just under two minutes remaining in the half.

The Panthers began their march down the field with time winding down, and a 32-yard Pickett lob to junior receiver Maurice Ffrench found the Panthers on the edge of the red zone. Pickett looked for Ffrench once more, but junior cornerback Christopher Frederick picked the pass off, effectively ending the first half.

Pitt quickly opened up the action in the second half. On the second play of the drive, Pickett dropped back and fired a bubble screen to senior receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes. Araujo-Lopes tiptoed the sideline, faked out a defender, and raced 68 yards for a touchdown, putting Pitt ahead by 10 for their first double-digit lead.

Only a minute into the second half, an hour long weather delay plagued the action, and Syracuse struck first when play resumed.

While the Panthers defense’ had been marginally better than the past two weeks in the first half, the unit began to revert back to their usual form after the break.

Two Dungey completions of 29 and 22 yards to first-year receiver Taj Harris put the Orange in position to score, and first-year Jarveon Howard leveled a Panther defender on his 5-yard rush into the endzone to make it 27-24. Two possessions later, Dungey led his team down the field and capped the drive off with a 21-yard rushing score, giving Syracuse a 31-27 lead, their first in over thirty minutes of play.

Alton Robinson’s name came up again when he forced his second fumble of the day on a sack of Pickett. Syracuse took over at the Pitt 31-yard line a little over a minute into the fourth. Although the Orange didn’t add another touchdown, Szmyt made his second field goal to create a one-touchdown Syracuse lead.

Qadree Ollison and fellow senior Darrin Hall refused to be outdone in their last homecoming game. On the following drive, the two combined for 65 rushing yards — the entire offensive production of the drive. Hall tied the contest at 34 on a seven-yard scamper with 7:51 remaining.

The Panther defense never seems to make it through a game without giving up one huge play, and low and behold, it happened at the worst possible time. On third down, Dungey launched the ball downfield 42 yards, hooking up with senior receiver Jamal Custis. Pitt stood tall and forced a field goal, giving Pickett and the offense a chance to put together a game-winning drive with 5:53 remaining.

Pitt’s final drive came down to a fateful fourth-and-three near midfield. Once again, Ollison willed his way to a first down to keep the Panthers alive. Ollison and Hall again accounted for every yard of offense, carrying their team to the Syracuse 27; Kessman made it a perfect three-for-three on the day when he tied the game at 37 to send it into overtime.

The homecoming team got the first crack at putting points on the board in OT. The Ollison and Hall received every touch, showing Narduzzi’s full commitment to the run game. Cheers of joy echoed across Heinz Field as Hall crossed the goal line for his second score of the day on a three-yard run, giving the Orange no choice but to reach the end zone.

The Orange went for broke on their first play as Dungey took a shot at the end zone. Sophomore defensive back Therran Coleman, attached to his receiver at the hip, rose up to intercept the ball, securing a 44-37 victory for Narduzzi and the Panthers.

Alex Kessman kicked his way into the history books in the win over Syracuse. His 54-yard field goal tied the Heinz Field record, and he broke it by hitting a 55-yard shot later in the second quarter. Kessman’s field goal at the end of the game gave his team the chance to win it in overtime.

“I wanted [the overtime],” Kessman said. “It’s what we live for. It’s what us specialists live for.”

Ollison looked as sharp as he has all season. The senior tailback was 8-yards shy of 200, his second 100-yard game of the season, and scored his fifth TD this season. Fellow RB Darrin Hall notched his third and fourth touchdowns of the year, including the OT score that sealed the deal.

“Get us the ball, and we’ll make something happen,” Hall said confidently of him and Ollison. “They knew what was coming, what plays we were about to run, but they can’t stop us.”

The Panthers, now .500 on the season at 3-3, will try to impose their will on one of the top teams in the country when they travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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No ex’Cuse: Panthers beat Syracuse 44-37 after weather delay, overtime