Panthers fumble away Senior Day to Boston College, 26-19


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Senior Maurice Ffrench (2) walks off Heinz Field for the last time as a Pitt wide receiver.

By Dominic Campbell, Senior Staff Writer

Entering the 2019 regular season finale on Saturday afternoon, both the Eagles and Panthers had significant sources of motivation. For the Panthers, a win on senior night would keep their hope of a nine-win season alive and propel them into one of the ACC’s top-tier bowl games, while the Eagles desperately needed one last win to become bowl eligible.

The desire for bowl eligibility won out in the end, as Boston College junior tailback AJ Dillon ran like a man possessed to lead his Eagles (6-6 overall, 4-4 ACC) to a 26-19 victory over the stunned hometown Panthers (7-5 overall, 4-4 ACC).

Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi expressed his frustration about his team’s sloppy play and the lack of desire they showed.

“No question we’re frustrated,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think we’re playing our best. We should be better than what we are right now … I mean, BC came in, they’re hungry, trying to get a bowl game themselves. They played better than we did. We didn’t execute.”

Pitt notably underachieved in two of its strongest departments — pass rushing and run defense. The Panthers entered Saturday as the nation’s leader in sacks per game (4.36) and sixth-best team in rushing yards allowed per game (92.6). Against Boston College, Pitt took down redshirt sophomore quarterback Dennis Grosel just once and allowed the Eagles to rush for 264 yards as a team.

Granted, Grosel only had to drop back 19 times and complete nine passes, as Dillon carried the Eagles to victory almost single-handedly. He carried the ball 32 times for 178 yards — 11 more than Pitt allowed to any previous opponent this season — and one touchdown.

The Panthers simply had no answer for the 6-foot, 250-pound Dillon. This was most evident when the Eagles were up seven and needing to milk the clock with 5:26 remaining. They simply handed Dillon the ball eight straight times and let him do the rest. He routinely picked up chunks of yardage while carrying Pitt defenders on his back.

“AJ Dillon is a big back,” Narduzzi said. “He fought for yards. We didn’t tackle 250 pounds very well. He’s a hefty guy. He’s a big back, an NFL tailback.”

The Panthers, in addition to their inability to stop Dillon, were done in by the same issues that has plagued them all season — turnovers. They gave the ball over four times, including a red zone interception from junior quarterback Kenny Pickett and three fumbles.

“We gave them 12 points off of four turnovers,” Narduzzi said. “Very well could have been 28 … I feel bad for those seniors going out and playing like that.”

Pitt’s senior starters on the defensive side of the ball — safeties Jazzee Stocker and Damar Hamlin — played nobly in their final showing at Heinz Field, leading the team with 11 and nine total tackles, respectively. On the other side of the ball, senior receiver Maurice Ffrench returned from a jaw injury to lead Pitt with nine receptions for 79 yards.

Other major contributors included first-year running back Vincent Davis, who led Pitt with 45 rushing yards and it’s lone touchdown on just six carries. Fellow first-year receiver Jared Wayne also filled in admirably for the absent Taysir Mack, catching six passes for 100 yards. Pickett completed 30 of 40 passes for 323 yards.

Wayne’s 100-yard receiving performance was the first by a Pitt true freshman since Tyler Boyd did it five times in 2013, and the young pass-catcher is earning praise from his teammates, including the quarterback.

“[Wayne’s] been doing a great job, I’m so proud of him,” Pickett said. “He shows up every day to work. I’m going to keep working with him, Coach Beatty will and you know, he’s going to be a great player for us.”

Redshirt junior kicker Alex Kessman may have been Pitt’s most valuable player, making all four of his field goals — including a long of 48 yards — to keep the Panthers in the game.

Finishing the season with a 7-5 overall and 4-4 ACC record, the Panthers now await their bowl game destination which will be announced on Dec. 8.