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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • June 20, 2024
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
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Pitt football comes up short of a comeback, falls to Cincinnati 27-21

Redshirt+Senior+Quarterback+Phil+Jurkovec+%285%29+gets+tackled+by+opposing+players+during+Saturday+night%E2%80%99s+game+against+the+Cincinnati+Bearcats+at+Acrisure+Stadium.
Patrick Cavanagh | Senior Staff Photographer
Redshirt Senior Quarterback Phil Jurkovec (5) gets tackled by opposing players during Saturday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Acrisure Stadium.

Sometimes, teams can make incredible comebacks, inspiring their entire fanbase by defying the odds and pulling together a win in the face of adversity.

Pitt football had a chance to do just that on Saturday night, but it came up short. The Panthers (1-1, ACC 0-0) fell to Cincinnati (2-0, Big 12 0-0) 27-21 at home, despite a strong fourth-quarter comeback effort. Pitt scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but it just wasn’t enough. 

The Bearcats piled on the points early, leading by as much as 20 points at the end of the third quarter. Junior running back Corey Kiner came up big for the Bearcats, rushing for 153 yards and one touchdown. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said the Panthers’ inability to stop the Cincinnati run game was crucial in the loss. 

“[We] couldn’t stop the run,” Narduzzi said. “If you don’t stop the run, you don’t win the football game.”

Pitt redshirt senior Phil Jurkovec also struggled in the matchup. The redshirt senior quarterback completed just four passes in the first half. Jurkovec said he noticed a few things from the loss that he needs to work on heading into next week.

“I just missed some throws,” Jurkovec said. “I got to trust some plays more, trust that they’re gonna be there. [I have to] trust my training. I think I got away from that a little bit.”

The Panthers started the game looking to make an early statement. Jurkovec aired the ball out three times on the opening drive but just couldn’t connect with any of his targets. The Panthers ultimately went three and out on their first drive. 

Cincinnati also came out of the gates swinging and it was much more successful than Pitt. On the third play of the drive, Bearcats’ junior wide receiver Aaron Turner took off, rushing for 25 yards downfield. Cincinnati redshirt senior quarterback then connected with junior tight end Payten Singletary, who battled through Pitt defenders to pick up a 12-yard touchdown. Singletary’s efforts put the Bearcats up 7-0 early. 

The Panthers’ offensive woes continued on their next drive. On third and six, Jurkovec was unable to find a target in time, forcing him to scramble out of pressure. As Jurkovec tried to dodge defenders, Cincinnati redshirt senior defensive end Eric Phillips snuck up behind, blindsiding the Panther quarterback for a loss of seven yards. The Panthers were once again forced to punt on fourth down. 

Lucas Zheng | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt struggled to stop Cincinnati’s pass rush the entire game. Including Phillips’ first-quarter sack, the Bearcats sacked Jurkovec five times throughout the game. Pitt redshirt senior left tackle and captain Matt Goncalves said he takes responsibility for his unit’s sloppy performance. 

“I think it all starts with me,” Goncalves said. “I have to lead the group upfront and to have five sacks like that, I take a big burden on myself.”

While the Panthers struggled, the Bearcats thrived. On the first play of their second drive, Kiner found an open lane, cruising down the field for a 68-yard gain. After the long gain, the Panthers’ defense finally slowed down the Bearcats, forcing Cincinnati to settle for a field goal. The Bearcats hit the field goal and earned the 10-0 lead with just under nine minutes left in the first quarter. 

With the game slipping out of their fingers already, the Panthers needed to make something happen. On third and nine, with another three and out looming, Pitt found its answer, as Jurkovec connected with junior wide receiver Konata Mumpfield for a 30-yard gain. 

Mumpfield’s efforts, plus a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, put the Panthers in scoring position. Again, on third down, Mumpfield came in clutch, as he hauled in a jump ball in the endzone to give the Panthers life. With just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter, Cincinnati held the tight 10-7 lead. 

After a Cincinnati three and out, redshirt senior running back C’Bo Flemister battled for a 38-yard gain. But the Panthers failed to capitalize, as redshirt junior kicker Ben Sauls missed the game-tying field goal. The first quarter ended with the score 10-7. 

Again, while Pitt failed to capitalize on early opportunities, Cincinnati thrived. Thanks to a 30-yard trick play, the Bearcats were again in scoring position. Kiner finished off the drive, battling into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown. The Bearcats now led 17-7 early in the second quarter. 

The Bearcats held the ball for most of the second quarter, sustaining an over eight-minute long drive to run out the quarter. Cincinnati then capped off its dominant first half with a 47-yard field goal. The Bearcats entered the locker room holding the 20-7 lead. 

With the game slipping out of reach, the Panthers knew they needed to make adjustments at halftime. For the defense, the adjustments worked, as redshirt senior defensive tackle Devin Danielson sacked Jones to force a Bearcat punt on their first drive out of the locker room. 

But the offensive’s halftime adjustments clearly didn’t work. On Pitt’s first play of the half, Jurkovec scrambled forward but fumbled the ball right before he was brought down. 

The turnover, deep in Panther territory, allowed the Bearcats to overwhelm Pitt’s defense and drive downfield. Jones finished the drive by throwing the ball deep to redshirt senior wide receiver Braden Smith, who dove to haul in the 21-yard touchdown pass and give the Bearcats a 27-7 lead. 

Pitt’s offense finally pulled itself together at the end of the third quarter. Thanks to a partially blocked punt by redshirt senior cornerback A.J. Woods, the Panthers gained the ball in prime field position. Then, on fourth and goal, Jurkovec delivered a well-placed pass to Mumpfield in the endzone for a nine-yard touchdown. Pitt now trailed by 13 with just under 15 minutes left in the game. 

The Panthers continued their fourth-quarter comeback on their next drive. On the first play of the drive, Jurkovec found junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew open downfield. Bartholomew hauled in the pass and sprinted downfield, gaining 60 yards on the play. The junior tight end then finished off the drive himself, as he came down with a jump ball for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the Panthers’ deficit to just six

Patrick Cavanagh | Senior Staff Photographer

With the game on the line, the Panther defense stepped up big, halting the Bearcats’ offense and forcing a punt on fourth down with seven minutes remaining in the game. But the Panthers’ offense just couldn’t get anything to work, as the Panthers were forced to punt as well. 

The Panthers’ defense once again came in clutch with just under six minutes left on the clock. On third and 13, Jones made a major miscue, as he threw an inaccurate pass directly into the hands of redshirt senior Marquis Williams.

But following the interception, the Panthers’ offense once again fell flat. On fourth down, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jack Dingle came up big for the Bearcats, sacking Jurkovec to give Cincinnati the ball back.

The Bearcats did give Pitt another opportunity to complete the comeback, as they ran out the clock to walk away with a 27-21 win. 

Pitt will need to rebound quickly before it faces its biggest test of the year next week — the Backyard Brawl on the road against West Virginia. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and coverage will air on ABC.

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor