Pitt outguns Duke in record breaking win

By Ryan Bertonaschi / Staff Writer

Pitt’s football team escaped from Durham, N.C., with a 58-55 win over the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon.  

The three-hour and 38-minute shootout was the highest-scoring game in the history of Pitt football. It was also just five points shy of becoming the highest-scoring game in ACC history.

Redshirt senior quarterback Tom Savage led the Panthers, going 23-for-33 with 424 yards passing and six touchdowns. For the second game in a row, it was Pitt’s freshmen who complemented Savage on the stat sheet, particularly during the first half.

Last week’s ACC Receiver of the Week Tyler Boyd caught eight passes for 154 yards with three touchdowns. Freshman running back James Conner ended the contest with 173 yards and a touchdown, leading all running backs.

Senior receiver Devin Street also had a breakout game, leading all receivers with six receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Saturday marked the first game of Street’s career in which he scored multiple times.

For the first three quarters, the matchup was not as close as the final score would suggest. With 5:41 left in the third quarter, freshman tight end Scott Orndoff caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Savage, giving Pitt a 51-28 lead.

On its next play from scrimmage, Duke began with a 75-yard pass play to cut the Pitt lead to 16. In their next possession, the Blue Devils marched 79 yards on eight plays to score on a quarterback keep by Brandon Connette. Connette and the Blue Devils then attempted a two-point conversion after the touchdown, but were stopped just shy of the goal line, leaving them trailing 51-41.

From there, the Panthers offense turned anemic, and Pitt fans could only hope that the game would fall into the hands of its defense.

It did. With 13:36 to go, Pitt redshirt senior linebacker Shane Gordon intercepted a pass from Connette at Pitt’s 40-yard line, but Pitt’s offense was unable to advance the ball, resulting in a 30-yard punt by Matt Yoklic to Duke’s 29-yard line.  

Facing a third down, Connette again threw a ball directly into the chest of a Panthers defender. This time it was redshirt junior linebacker Anthony Gonzalez, who returned the pick for a touchdown. Chris Blewitt’s extra point capped off Pitt’s final scoring play of the afternoon with just under nine minutes to go, putting the Panthers up 58-41.

From there, the Blue Devils took full advantage of Pitt’s fourth-quarter offensive inconsistencies. Connette led a touchdown-scoring drive with 8:30 to go, and after Duke failed in an on-side kick attempt, Pitt went three-and-out and was forced to punt.

The struggling Panthers defense, which gave up 532 yards of total offense on the day, then gave up another Duke touchdown, once again scored by Connette on a 4-yard rush.   

Up by just three with 3:43 left in the game, Pitt needed a first down to extend the game and let the seconds run out. Facing a third-and-seven and having allowed a minute and a half to tick off the clock, Pitt got it on a pass play. Redshirt junior receiver Kevin Weatherspoon reeled in a fingertip catch from Savage near Pitt’s sideline for a 15-yard gain, planting one foot in play and even brushing his other foot along green grass before falling out of bounds. The catch marked Pitt’s 27th first down of the game.

From there, Savage took three knees, and the Panthers rushed off to the locker room, celebrating their first win in the ACC.