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Narduzzi makes another big fourth quarter call in win over Syracuse

Wide+Receiver+Tyler+Boyd+makes+a+critical+catch+in+the+game+against+Syracuse+on+Saturday.++Photo+courtesy+of+Bryan+Cereijo+%7C+The+Daily+Orange+
Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd makes a critical catch in the game against Syracuse on Saturday.  Photo courtesy of Bryan Cereijo | The Daily Orange

Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd makes a critical catch in the game against Syracuse on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Bryan Cereijo | The Daily Orange

Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd makes a critical catch in the game against Syracuse on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Bryan Cereijo | The Daily Orange

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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On fourth and seven at his own 48-yard line, Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t think twice about calling the gutsiest available play.

After two late fourth down conversions against Georgia Tech last week, he was going for the fake punt against his next opponent.

“I said, ‘Hey, run the fake.’ There wasn’t much to talk about,” Narduzzi said. “I did a good job acting, looking like ‘Son of a gun, how could we not get a first down?’ Then, there we go.”

The snap went to punter Ryan Winslow, who rolled right and then dropped in a pass to Matt Galambos for a 12-yard gain. That completion represented a seminal play in an 89-yard, 9:20 drive that ended with a field goal as time expired to give No. 23 Pitt a 23-20 victory over Syracuse.

If Winslow hadn’t made that play, though, Syracuse would have had good field position against a deflated Pitt team on its heels. The Orange could have knocked Pitt out of the rankings after one week.

“Our kids executed it to perfection,” Narduzzi said. “We had three options — Ryan can run the ball, hit George Aston or hit Galambos on the flat route. He did a heck of a job executing.”

With so many moving parts, any number of things could have gone wrong. Winslow could have mishandled the snap or missed the throw, or Galambos could have been out of position.

“I had confidence in that play and did it in practice, so I knew I was going to execute it, honestly,” Winslow said.

The play, though, also represented the qualities that have led to Pitt’s 6-1 record. There was no specter of doubt about going for the conversion — just sheer confidence and resilience. That mentality starts with Narduzzi and the rest of the coaching staff, who have taught players how to embrace challenges instead of folding like past Pitt teams.

Some of that change comes in a new team tradition before the game’s final plunge.

Before every fourth quarter this season, the players pump themselves up, jumping around together in preparation for the rest of the game. Offensive lineman Alex Bookser does push-ups in the middle of the jumping huddle to keep his and the team’s energy up.

“You can see the party they have out there before the fourth quarter, you can see they believe,” Narduzzi said. “The kids believe, and if you continue to coach them all the way through the game positively, you’re going to get good results.”

Running back Qadree Ollison said they know the importance the fourth quarter holds and can finish out games with confidence.

“We believe that the fourth quarter is our quarter. If you watch the start of that fourth quarter, you see us all jumping around, having a lot of fun,” Ollison said. “That’s our quarter. That’s where games are won, that’s where championships are won.”

Prior to this contest, Pitt had lost 32 consecutive games when trailing at any point in the fourth quarter. In five of its seven losses last year alone, Pitt held a lead during the fourth quarter or overtime.

Throughout the final drive, Ollison had several key runs, twice converting on third and one. Ollison, like the rest of his teammates, just seems to make plays when it matters.

“That just shows our offense is being resilient. We trust the guy next to us to go get it on fourth and one, third and one,” Ollison said. “You just got to have the mindset that no man’s going to stop us from getting a yard.”

Over the previous three games, it was Pitt’s defense that was on the field at the end of the game, presented with the opportunity to secure the win. This time it was the offense’s turn, much to quarterback Nathan Peterman’s pleasure.

“We want to have the ball in our hands at the end of games,” Peterman said. “All that hard work we’ve put in, we’re just not going to give it up.”

Just one game past the halfway point of the season, Pitt is now bowl eligible — a milestone it didn’t achieve until its 12th and final game last season against Miami on Nov. 29.

At 4-0 in conference play, the Panthers sit atop the ACC Coastal Division and are in good shape to win it all, pending the results of upcoming games against major competitors like No. 22 Duke.

On Thursday, Pitt will face off against another 6-1 team, North Carolina, which will provide a better barometer on this Pitt team’s quality. No matter the result, Rowell is already convinced.

“If you don’t know, now you know. This team is real,” Rowell said.

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Narduzzi makes another big fourth quarter call in win over Syracuse