Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor
In a game that you’d have to have seen to believe, Pitt (3-2, 2-2 ACC) dropped a 31-30 thriller at Boston College (3-1, 2-1 ACC) for its second straight loss. Pitt appeared out of it and regained life at multiple crucial moments, but couldn’t bounce back from its 30-29 loss to NC State last week.
Pitt’s lackluster performance from last week carried into the first half against Boston College. The Panthers started their first possession with promise, gaining two quick first downs on receptions by sophomore running back Vincent Davis and redshirt senior wideout Taysir Mack. The Panthers drive stalled in Eagles territory, though, after first-year receiver Jordan Addison dropped senior quarterback Kenny Pickett’s third down pass.
Addison, who missed the second half of the NC State loss due to an undisclosed injury, has had issues catching passes in key moments this year. Although he led Pitt with 23 receptions going into Saturday, his four drops ranked last in the ACC.
Pitt announced before the game that no Panthers would miss the game for COVID-19 protocols, their third straight week with no players absent.
A Pitt defense that NC State took advantage of through the air showed up again on the first defensive possession against BC. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec backed up near his own goal line, connected on a 26-yard pass to redshirt junior tight end Hunter Long on the offense’s first play from scrimmage. Three more completions put the Eagles in the Panther red zone, but the Panthers held the Eagles to an opening field goal.
Pickett, nearly single-handedly, willed the Pitt offense down the field on their next possession. Addison made up for his third down drop with three catches, including a third- and fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive. Facing third and goal at the one-yard line, Pickett lunged forward on the quarterback sneak to give the Panthers a 7-3 first quarter lead, the same way he scored two of his touchdowns last week.
Boston College answered early in the second quarter. After a Pitt three-and-out gave the Eagles favorable starting position, Jurkovec started attacking the Panther secondary. Pitt redshirt sophomore cornerback Marquis Williams dropped a would-be interception, and Jurkovec punished the Panthers for the missed opportunity a few plays later with a 44-yard touchdown heave to sophomore receiver Zay Flowers. Jurkovec ultimately torched Pitt’s coverage for 187 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Pitt kept up the back-and-forth battle with another touchdown of its own. A 42-yard kick return from graduate transfer DJ Turner gave the Panthers prime field position, and two consecutive passing interference penalties put the Panthers back in the red zone. First-year running back Israel Abanikanda caught a swing pass and sprinted down the sideline into the end zone untouched, putting Pitt back in front 14-10, with about 10 minutes left in the first half.
But Pitt’s coverage issues continued, even if luck sometimes turned its way. Jurkovec looked to have his second touchdown throw of the day, but a wide open end zone drop kept Pitt’s defense alive. He’d still score on that drive, falling into the end zone on a rare 2-yard quarterback sneak attempt on fourth down. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi felt the points should never have occurred, as officials questionably called redshirt first-year Pat Garwo III down on second down, negating a Pitt fumble recovery.
“I didn’t think it was a doubt [it was a fumble],” Narduzzi said. “Coaches will coach and officials will officiate. We seemed to be getting beat in the booth.”
The referees stole the show for the rest of the half as well. Pitt redshirt senior center Jimmy Morrissey pushed an Eagles defender after a late hit on Pickett’s scramble, resulting in offsetting penalties. Jurkovec’s throw away facing pressure late in the second half had Panther nation screaming at their televisions for an intentional grounding call, which they did not receive. The refs called a push off to cancel Mack’s big gain on the next possession, penalties that Pitt didn’t get its way in crucial moments of last week’s loss.
The bleeding didn’t stop at halftime. Jurkovec planted a perfect ball in stride to Flowers for a 77-yard score to open the third quarter, with Panthers senior cornerback Jason Pinnock stumbling on the chasedown.
Aside from a missed Pitt field goal, neither team had many scoring opportunities for the next 10 minutes. Pitt’s rushing struggles continued, and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s play calling produced a few head-scratching decisions. Pitt’s highly touted defensive line, which had disappeared after a dominant start to the season, got its mojo back, finishing the game with five sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
“In the first half we thought we were gonna use some different moves,” Redshirt senior defensive end Rashad Weaver said. “But towards the end of the first half, we realized that power and working off of power would be best to contain [Jurkovec] and get sacks.”
As Pitt drove down the field desperately needing a score late in the third quarter, Pickett suffered an ankle injury from an awkward twist as Eagles defenders brought him down. Pitt redshirt first-year quarterback Joey Yellen came in to replace Pickett, but didn’t have to make a throw, as two rushes from Davis put the Panthers in the end zone. The score narrowed the Boston College lead to 24-21 heading into the fourth quarter.
Pickett came back into the game on Pitt’s next offensive possession, but threw an interception to give the Eagles the ball in the Panther red zone. The mistake looked like it could cost Pitt the game, but Weaver made the most impressive play of his career to keep Pitt alive. He got to Jurkovec and stole the football right out of his hands for a forced fumble and recovery.
But the Panthers couldn’t capitalize off the turnover, going three-and-out to punt the ball back to the Eagles. Pitt’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back at midfield, but the Panthers couldn’t get a first down again and got stopped on fourth down. Pitt defense salvaged one more three-and-out effort to get the ball one last time with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Pitt marched into Eagles territory, and a fourth down passing interference call put them in senior kicker Alex Kessman’s field goal range. Pickett then took a sack on third down, that put the Panthers in no man’s land with fourth and 20 at Boston’s 41-yard line. Narduzzi opted to go for the miracle field goal, kneeling with his arms locked with his players as he watched Kessman take the field for a 58-yard attempt with 46 seconds remaining.
“4th down and 20 is a stretch,” Narduzzi said. “I just had a lot of faith. Kess said ‘I got it,’ and we went with it.”
Kessman drilled it, making the longest field goal in program history at the moment Pitt needed it most.
The Eagles strung several passes together on the ensuing possession, setting up a 52-yard field goal attempt as the fourth quarter expired. The attempt missed wide left, sending the game to overtime.
Boston College started overtime with the ball, and two Pitt defensive hurries forced a third and 10. Flowers once again slipped through the Panther secondary though, hauling in a 25-yard score to put the Eagles up 31-24, as his third touchdown of the night.
Pitt needed a touchdown to extend the game. A hobbled Pickett scrambled for a first down on fourth and seven, and got a push for another conversion on fourth and one. Pickett completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Mack, and the game appeared to be headed for a second overtime.
But Pitt fans learned again not to make assumptions while their team is playing. Kessman, in his first kick since his record-breaking field goal, shanked the extra point wide right, giving the Eagles a 31-30 victory.
Narduzzi said the Panthers placed no blame on Kessman, as his heroics got them to overtime in the first place.
“Half our team has already gone in there and grabbed him,” Narduzzi said. “It’s disappointing, but it’s stuff that happens and he got us there.”
Bouncing back from this loss will not come easily. Pitt will play at No. 13 Miami next Saturday, before returning to Heinz Field to face No. 4 Notre Dame on Oct. 24.