A tale of two halves: Comeback attempt falls short in 29-24 loss

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A tale of two halves: Comeback attempt falls short in 29-24 loss

Narduzzi expresses his frustration on the field on Friday.  Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Narduzzi expresses his frustration on the field on Friday. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Narduzzi expresses his frustration on the field on Friday. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Narduzzi expresses his frustration on the field on Friday. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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If Pat Narduzzi watched his Pitt football team on television, the offensive display might tempt him to fast-forward to the second half of most of his team’s games.

After slow starts, Narduzzi said the second half is where the team’s offense — and its resilience — emerge. But for the seniors departing Heinz Field Friday, that gusto emerged too late.

In its final regular season game, Narduzzi’s team again faced an early deficit, with Miami outscoring them by 23-3 in the first half. Despite a late comeback, Pitt lost 29-24 at Heinz Field Friday to end its regular season at 8-4. The coach chose to look at the positives from the game, particularly in the late comeback attempt.

“One of the reasons I love this football team is they have no quit in them. They will never quit,” Narduzzi said. “They continue to fight and fight and fight and always feel like they have a chance at the end of the game to win it.”

In Pitt’s four losses, opponents outscored the Panthers 81-16 in the first half. Pitt’s first-half troubles have left its head coach searching for remedies, some outside of his usual box of tricks.

“We started slow again. We’ve got to find a way to jumpstart. I might have to bring my jumper cables out or something,” Narduzzi said.

Miami set the tone for the game early. Receiving the ball first, the Hurricanes drove 75 yards down the field with ease in 6:12. Miami mostly leaned on running back Joseph Yearby, and it finished off with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Brad Kaaya.

Hoping to answer Miami’s touchdown, quarterback Nathan Peterman looked for tight end J.P. Holtz downfield on the second play of the drive. Peterman made his intentions clear and Miami corner Artie Burns noticed, jumping ahead of Holtz and collecting an interception.

Peterman took responsibility for the play that helped dig his team’s early hole even deeper.

“It was a costly mistake for us, kind of set the game off the wrong way, and we just couldn’t find it again until too late,” Peterman said. “It’s just hard because we all wanted nine wins.”

Miami took advantage of the mistake with a field goal, following that with another touchdown and field goal before Pitt eventually put points on the board.

The slow start comes from a few factors. Miami’s talent may have outclassed Pitt, as Miami consistently brings in top recruiting classes despite recent subpar records.

Miami executed better than Pitt, and Narduzzi said his team didn’t have enough energy from the start to make winning plays.

“They made the plays in the first half, and we didn’t,” Narduzzi said.

Coming into the game, the Panthers still had reasons, athletic and emotional, to want to win. It was senior day, and those graduating wanted to leave Heinz Field on a high note, which likely also put more pressure on those not yet departing.

In the past, Narduzzi has watched similar circumstances brew disappointing results.

“Sometimes on senior day, I’ve seen guys not play as well, period,” Narduzzi said. “There’s a lot of emotions out there in a game like that.”

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd didn’t speculate on what has led to his team’s poor starts. What is clear to Boyd, though, is that poor execution certainly didn’t help.

“I can’t really pinpoint or point a finger on anybody,” Boyd said. “A lot of guys, including me, we just weren’t out there doing our job, we weren’t executing our plays.”

Eventually, Pitt showed some life.

On Pitt’s second drive of the second half, running back Darrin Hall broke a tackle and raced 35 yards to the end zone. Hall was one of the few bright spots for Pitt on Friday, rushing 12 times for 103 yards. But a failed two-point conversion and onside kick late sealed the loss.

Linebacker Mike Caprara said the late burst naturally wasn’t the game plan.

“It was one of those, ‘C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,’ and the spark didn’t really come,” Caprara said. “Not the outcome we expected.”

Pitt will have about a month to correct its problems, when it plays in a to-be-determined bowl game. For the time being, Narduzzi said he won’t be satisfied until he leads his team to an undefeated season.

“Not where we want to be. We’ve got to win some of those big games,” Narduzzi said. “There’s 12 games, you’d like win 12. You’re never going to be happy until you get every one of them.”

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