Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
That turned out to be the case Saturday afternoon for Paul Chryst and the Pitt football team as Pitt defeated long-time Big East Conference rival Syracuse 17-16 to become bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive season and second under Chryst.
In the first ACC meeting between the schools, it all came down to a timeout, one that Chryst was luckily awarded just in time before the Orange burnt Pitt with a fake field goal that would have likely gone for a game winning touchdown.
Instead the Orange were forced to go for it on fourth-and-eight and a blitzing Ray Vinopal rushed he throw of Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt to end the game.
Otherwise it was the same old story or the Panthers which featured inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, quarterback Tom Savage under intense pressure for four quarters and in between all of that some big plays on both sides of the ball.
After a three-and-out by the Pitt offense, the Orange ran the ball down the Panthers throat right off the bat to take the early lead on a 36-yard touchdown run by Jerome Smith. The point after attempt was blocked though by Aaron Donald, which turned out to be a huge play in the game.
The Pitt offense struggled to move the ball until the second quarter when they got on the board with a 43-yard field goal from Chris Blewitt. Pitt held the ball for over nine minutes on the drive and ran 19 plays, but covered only 51 yards on the drive.
Later in the quarter Pitt took a 10-6 lead when Savage hit Manasseh Garner with a seven-yard touchdown pass to cap off a nice 10-play, 70-yard drive.
However right at the end of the half Pitt’s Kevin Weatherspoon fumbled a punt that Syracuse was able to turn into a late field goal and close within 10-9 at the half.
The Orange re-took the lead in the third quarter when Hunt hit Alvin Cornelius with a 42-yard touchdown pass, Hunt’s first scoring pass in over two months, but the Panthers answered right back with a nine-play, 88-yard drive that culminated with Isaac Bennett’s five-yard touchdown run on the last play of the third quarter to give Pitt a 17-16 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Syracuse squandered a chance to regain the lead after Luke Arciniega intercepted Savage’s deflected pass at midfield early in the fourth. Despite help from a personal foul against Pitt, the Syracuse drive stalled and Ryan Norton missed right on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Both teams came in at 5-5 and needed a win to become bowl eligible and although it was ugly at times, Pitt got the job done.
Savage took another beating but ended up throwing for 218 yards and a score. The Panthers were outgained 146-25 on the ground but Savage was able to make enough plays in the air to lead the team to victory.
Pitt’s all-time leading receiver Devin Street left the game early with an injury but the combination of Garner and freshman Tyler Boyd made enough plays to help Savage out.
Boyd caught 10 passes for 82 yards while Garner caught seven for 61 and a touchdown.
However the most dominant player on the field for either team likely was the All-American candidate Donald as he disrupted the Syracuse offense all afternoon and lived in the Syracuse backfield, recording 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Panthers conclude the regular season Friday when they play host to Miami.