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Panthers run wild on Hokies, win 52-22 in Coastal clash

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Panthers run wild on Hokies, win 52-22 in Coastal clash

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

By Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer

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Pitt football’s senior class made sure its last home performance wouldn’t be a disappointment, leading the Panthers to a dominant 52-22 victory and making history in a crucial division clash over Virginia Tech at a frosty Heinz Field Saturday afternoon.

“Since it’s senior night, last time at Heinz Field, it’s going to feel a little better than most,” senior fullback George Aston said. “It doesn’t get better than that.”

The Panthers set the school record with 654 offensive yards, including the longest play in school history. The victory also put Pitt undefeated at home in four ACC games for the first time in school history. 

Pitt’s rushing attack has been its biggest weapon all season, so it was fitting the senior backfield trio of Aston, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall all scored at least once, while leading the Panthers to an eye-popping 492 rushing yards — the second-most in program history. 

The Hokies (4-5 overall, 3-3 ACC) had no defensive answer for the trio, as Pitt’s offensive line routinely opened up holes, Aston kept up his quiet contributions at the fullback position by blasting second-level defenders, and Ollison rushed 16 times for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Hall followed up last week’s leading performance with seven touches for 186 yards and a touchdown of his own.

“Those guys are two great backs that are going to play in the NFL,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said of Ollison and Hall. “Those are two special guys”.

With the win, the Panthers (6-4 overall, 5-1 ACC) officially become bowl-eligible and move one step closer to playing in the ACC championship game.

After a good defensive effort from the Panthers, the Hokies punted the ball and pinned Pitt at their own 13 yard line. With a balanced approach, the Panthers drove down the field and sophomore kicker Alex Kessman opened the scoring with a 48-yard field goal.

Narduzzi and the defense came to play, stifling the Hokies offense on another failed drive.

As Pitt has shown the football world all season, its ground game is one of the nation’s best. Besides a sack, it took the Panthers three plays from their own 20 yard line to score a touchdown, with contributions from Ollison and Darren. With two minutes left in the first, Pitt took a 10-0 lead against the Hokies, controlling most of the first quarter.

Knox Coulter | Staff Photographer

Following another great defensive effort, Pitt took no time to score on its first drive of the second quarter. Pickett found junior receiver Maurice Ffrench on a beautiful 78-yard deep ball — the longest pass play for the Panthers this season — on the very first play, extending Pitt’s lead to 17-0.

The Hokies showed some momentum on offense, until the Pitt defense made plays and slowed them down. Kicking toward the difficult open end of Heinz Field, sophomore Brian Johnson missed a 40-yard kick for the Hokies.

Determined to keep their foot on the gas pedal, Pitt’s rushing attack kept proving its worth. Hall hit 144 yards for the day with a 58-yard yard to the Virginia Tech 22 yard line. Trying to capitalize on the huge gain, Pickett bruised his way to the end zone, ultimately fumbling the ball which VT recovered for a touchback.

With new life injected into the Hokies attack, junior quarterback Ryan Willis led the Virginia Tech offense down the field and scored on a four play, 80-yard drive. Pitt’s defense looked a little shaky in pass defense, but was also hampered by a 15-yard pass interference penalty. Pickett’s fumble would end up being a 14-point swing for the Virginia Tech Hokies, cutting Pitt’s lead to 17-7.

Relying on their strength in the ground game, the Panthers struck back, running the ball on each of their six plays of the 75-yard drive. The last play of the drive was a 12-yard rushing score by Ffrench, which extended Pitt’s lead 24-7.

After a great defensive stop, the offense continued its dominance on the field using only 1 minute three seconds of game clock to drive down the field and score. After a deep sideline pass to sophomore receiver Taysir Mack, a senior got his chance to represent his class.

Aston scored a short goal line touchdown, adding to the impressive running back resume on the day. The Panthers closed out the second half with a 31-7 lead, making their case for the ACC Coastal.

Following the Pittsburgh punt to start the second half, Virginia Tech drove down the field and scored a touchdown on 17 plays for 80 yards, taking 7:38 minutes off the clock. Pittsburgh’s defense was allowing dink and dunk plays while also surrendering another pass interference call.

Just after Virginia Tech tacked on another score and a two point conversion, Pitt struck back.  Using only a minute of the clock and two plays, Hall took the second play 73 yards to the house to make the score 38-15.

With four minutes left in the third quarter, the Panthers were getting ready to kick off when “Sweet Caroline” started playing. As the crowd was singing along, Pitt kicked off and pinned the Hokies deep in their own territory —- the stadium erupted.

Despite the noise, Virginia Tech shortened the lead to 38-22 on a 6:30 drive that consisted of 13 plays and 90 yards.  Ffrench returned the ball at the 50 yard line, and Pitt claped back at the Hokies. In six plays the Panthers scraped their way to the VT 31-yard-line, where Ollison decided to join the fun and cap the drive off with a 31-yard touchdown run.

What appeared to be sophomore Rashad Weaver’s second sack of the day turned into one of Virginia Tech’s longest plays of the night.

“This a crew that is known for protecting the quarterback,” Weaver said. “So once i heard the announcer say sack I let go because I wasn’t trying to get another flag on the quarterback.”

Unfortunately for the Hokies, the Panthers were diligent in their red zone defense, forcing a turnover on downs at the Pittsburgh three yard line.

On the next play, Ollison ran for history on his 97-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to make the score 52-22. Not only was that the longest play from scrimmage in Pitt history, but he also became the sixth Panther running back to rush for 1,000 yards in two separate seasons. Ollison’s motivation may have came from a talk James Conner, former Pitt Panther and current Pittsburgh Steeler running back, gave the team before the game.

Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor
Redshirt senior running back Qadree Ollison does a flip after rushing 97 yards to a touchdown — a record length for Pitt.

[Click here to see the full gallery of photos]

“[Conner] talked about opportunity,” Ollison said. “He said we have the opportunity to do something great today, and he was right”.

Ollison’s last touchdown run was the final blow of the Panthers’ victory. Pitt was able to close out its home schedule with a historic night. 

Building off a strong game, the Panthers will be looking to lockdown the ACC Coastal next Saturday at Wake Forest.

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Panthers run wild on Hokies, win 52-22 in Coastal clash