Pitt football’s “Cardiac Cats” steal a win at Duke


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw the ball 34 times in just the first half at Duke on Saturday.

By Michael Elesimogun, Staff Writer

After building a 26-3 lead early in the third quarter, it looked like the Panthers (4-2, 1-1 ACC) were going to cruise over the Duke Blue Devils (3-2, 1-1 ACC) for their first ACC win of the season.

But a nightmarish second half saw Pitt relinquish that lead with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, setting up yet another make-or-break drive for the Panthers. This time it was sophomore utility man V’Lique Carter who provided the heroics, catching a 26-yard pass and spinning past a Duke defender for the game-winning touchdown with 38 seconds on the clock.

The game was a tale of two halves for both teams. It felt like everything was going right for the Panthers in the first half. Pitt’s defense continued its strong play by allowing only three points in the first half and forcing the three Duke turnovers, with one of those turnovers turning into a pick six from redshirt sophomore safety Paris Ford.

The offense, which has struggled early in games throughout the season, got itself going in the first half, taking advantage of good field position to post 19 points. QB Kenny Pickett threw the ball a staggering 34 times in the first half.

Then everything changed. The Panthers came out of the half and dominated on defense, forcing another fumble and giving the offense great field position to start their second drive of the half. The Panthers converted and went up 26-3. Everything was going well — or so they thought.

The Panthers’ miscues allowed the Blue Devils to storm back into the game. The next three drives ended with a muffed punt by Ford, a fumble by Dontavius Butler-Jenkins and an interception by Kenny Pickett, respectively. The Blue Devils cut Pitt’s lead to two with nine minutes left and consolidated all the momentum.

Along with miscues on offense, there were many questionable penalties on the defense, mainly a targeting call that led to the ejection of Ford, who will be unavailable for the first half of the Panthers’ next game in two weeks against Syracuse.

The Blue Devils switched schemes from an up-tempo spread attack in favor of the triple option offense. The schematic change coupled with a myriad of Panther penalties aided a long Duke drive, capped off by a touchdown pass from quarterback Quentin Harris to the wide open running back Deon Jackson. That score gave the Blue Devils their first lead since the early minutes of the first quarter.

The Panthers, after leading by as many as 23, now found themselves with their backs against the wall, down 30-26 with just under a minute and a half left to play.

Pickett took control of the offense with 1:26 left and targeted five different receivers on the game’s final drive. The six-play, 82-yard drive resulted in a short pass to Carter, who made one man miss with a spin and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 38 seconds left in the game.

Carter’s spin move and score put the Panthers up 33-30 and on the ensuing Blue Devils possession, redshirt junior defensive end Patrick Jones II caused a strip sack — his second of the game — to give the Panthers the ball back with 24 seconds left.

In his post-game press conference, head coach Pat Narduzzi put to voice what so many narrow victories feel like.

“[My team] just wants to make things tight and give me chest pains,” Narduzzi said.

The “Cardiac Cats,” as Pitt football’s official twitter account dubbed them, escaped Durham with a victory, and now they can look forward to a much-needed bye week. The banged-up Panthers will rest and recover while they prepare for a Friday night showdown at rival Syracuse on Oct 18.