Football: Last-minute touchdown gives Cininnati 45-44 win over Pitt

By Adam Littman

After Dion Lewis’ third touchdown of the day gave Pitt a 44-38 lead against No. 5 Cincinnati… After Dion Lewis’ third touchdown of the day gave Pitt a 44-38 lead against No. 5 Cincinnati with 1:36 left in today’s game, placeholder Andrew Janocko dropped the snap on the point after touchdown. He picked it up and ran, but couldn’t get in the end zone.

“With the ball bobbled, we didn’t have time to regroup and kick it,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.

A minute and four plays later, Cincinnati led 45-44 after a 29–yard pass from quarterback Tony Pike to Armon Binns and the Bearcats (12-0, 7-0 Big East) were on their way to a second consecutive Big East title and BCS Bowl berth.

“After the missed PAT, we felt confident,” Pitt offensive lineman John Malecki said. “We’re up six and the defense had a chance to get us a stop and a win. Things like that just come up with the sport and we had many more opportunities to win the game than just that.”

The Panthers (9-3, 5-2 Big East) led 31-10 late in the second quarter and 31-17 at the half, but couldn’t hold on. Pitt was out-scored 21-13 in the fourth quarter and 28-13 in the second half.

“We didn’t generate as much pressure up front as we did in the first half,” Wannstedt said.

After holding Pike to just 84 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in the first half, he finished the game 22-44 for 302 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

“His pocket presence is unbelievable,” Pitt defensive tackle Gus Mustakas said. “We got to him but didn’t knock him down enough.”

The Bearcats were kept in the game thanks to big plays by wide receiver/kick returner Mardy Gilyard. With Pitt leading 31-10 late in the first half, he returned a Luke Briggs kick-off 99 yards for a score to bring Cincinnati within 14 points.

“That kickoff return completely changed the momentum of the game,” Wannstedt said. “We never regained that momentum.”

Gilyard kept it going, though. In the third quarter he caught a 68-yard touchdown pass to cut Pitt’s lead down to seven. Pike threw him a perfect pass with three Panther defenders surrounding him, and Gilyard caught it going to the outside, then cut inside and out-ran everyone else for the score.

He caught five passes for 118 yards and one touchdown. Combined with his 256 yards returning kicks, he had 374 yards on the afternoon.

But it wasn’t just Gilyard that kept Cincinnati afloat early. A few Panther mistakes allowed the Bearcats to hang around.

With Pitt lead 7-0, Cincinnati faced a third-and-goal from the 6-yard line. Pike’s pass to D.J. Woods was incomplete, but Elijah Fields was called for pass interference, giving Cincinnati a first down. On the very next play Jacob Ramsey scored from two yards out and the Bearcats tied the game on the extra point.

After Baldwin’s first touchdown, Pitt led 14-7 with Cincinnati on the Panther 19-yard line. On first down, Pike threw incomplete to Woods over the middle. After dropping the pass, safety Dom DeCicco hit Woods and was called for a high hit, giving Cincinnati the ball on the Pitt 10-yard line.

On the next play, Pike threw to the corner of the end zone incomplete but Jovani Chappel was called for pass interference, putt the ball on the Panther 2. The Pitt defense held strong after that, though, keeping Cincinnati to a field goal.

“When you add [the penalties] up, losing is the end result,” Wannstedt said.

The major reason the Panthers even had a chance to win the game was Lewis. The running back set career highs in carries (47), yards (194) and touchdowns (three) today. He also caught five passes for 34 yards.

“We felt going in, establishing the running game would be our lifeline to victory,” Wannstedt said.

Of the 75 offensive plays the Panthers ran, Lewis touched the ball on 52 of them, including the first 15 of the day. The 47 carries are the most in Pitt history, breaking Craig Heyward’s record of 42 from 1987 against Notre Dame.

“That kid has a bigger heart than anyone on the team,” Mustakas said.

Baldwin also had a big day on offense for the Panthers. The sophomore receiver caught six passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

On his first touchdown, Stull threw it a bit high to Baldwin on the right side of end zone. Baldwin leapt to make the catch, getting hit by a Cincinnati defender. As Baldwin was falling backwards, he made sure to get his left foot inbounds for the score. After it was called an incomplete pass, the Panthers challenged the call and it was overturned.

The second came on a flea flicker. Stull handed the ball off to Ray Graham, who ran to the line of scrimmage and then tossed the ball back to Stull. The quarterback then unloaded a perfect 40-yard pass between two defenders where only Baldwin could catch it.

Stull finished the game 13-21 with 176 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He scored on a three-yard touchdown run.

With the loss, the Panthers finish third in the Big East behind Cincinnati and West Virginia. The Panthers still have a bowl game left to play, but won’t know which until after all teams have completed their regular seasons.

“This year was an improvement [from last] but we just came up short,” defensive end Mick Williams said. “I’m just at a loss for words. I love my teammates and my fellow seniors and I’m proud of them.”

Notes: Lewis’ second touchdown gave him 16 touchdowns and 96 points this year, breaking LeSean McCoy’s scoring records for a freshman at Pitt set in 2007… this was Lewis’ ninth game with at least 100 yards rushing and seventh in a row… Baldwin’s two touchdowns gave him his first multi-touchdown game in his career… Baldwin’s 113 receiving yards give him 1,080 on the year, making him the first Panther receiver to eclipse the 1,000-mark since Greg Lee had 1,297 yards in 2004.

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