Dressed in old-school yellow and blue, an homage to the 1976 National Championship winning Pitt squad, the 2016 Panthers flipped the script on what was shaping up to be another last minute loss against a Power 5 conference team.
After tying the game on a semi-miraculous tipped 76-yard touchdown pass from QB Nathan Peterman to TE Scott Orndoff, the Panther defense was starring down a Georgia Tech offense that they hadn’t been able to stop all game. And with over four minutes left on the clock, there was more than enough time for Justin Thomas and Georgia Tech to march down the field for a winning score.
Would it be another late-game meltdown like Oklahoma State and North Carolina? Or would the Panther defense, like it had against Penn State and Marshall, come up big?
Today, it came up big.
Real big. As in 6-foot-3-inches, 340 pounds big.
After two ineffective Georgia Tech runs, QB Justin Thomas hit a 10-yard pass to set up a 4th and 1 at Pitt’s 34 yard line. Counting on an offense that had already rolled up 241 yards on the ground, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson opted to go for it.
Pitt’s Tyrique Jarrett made sure they wouldn’t get yard 242. Jarrett blew through his blocker and stuffed Dedrick Mills for no gain. A review confirmed the call on the field, and the Pitt offense took over deep in Georgia Tech territory.
Qadree Ollison’s 16-yard run was enough to put Pitt in (relatively) comfortable field goal range, and after a 3-yard gain by Conner, and a no-gainer by Ollison, Peterman took a loss of two yards to set Blewitt up in the middle of the field for a try at a 31-yard game winner.
Chris Blewitt banked in the field goal as time expired and the Panthers (4-2, 1-1) got a much needed victory over the Yellow Jackets at Heinz Field.
The start of the game featured basically what we’ve seen from the Panthers all year. Matt Canada’s offense rolled early with a dizzying array of jet sweeps and misdirections and, in a new wrinkle, a bootleg-toss-back to OT Brian O’Neill, who was eligible on the play. O’Neill, a converted TE, took the screen from Peterman and with his offensive line buddies leading the way, rumbled in for a 24-yard score.
Georgia Tech would cut the lead to 7-3 with a 37-yard field goal, but Pitt, like they’ve done virtually all year, answered back. Qadree Ollison capped a 14 play, 75 yard drive with a 4-yard TD scamper, his first of the year, to make it 14-3.
On the ensuing kickoff, a J.J. Green 96-yard TD return pulled the Yellow Jackets back within four points.
But once again, the Pitt offense was able to methodically drive down the field. Pitt faced a 1st and 25 at their own 41 yard line, but were able to convert a 3rd and 7 thanks to a 17-yard grab by Jester Weah. Set up at the Georgia Tech 24, James Conner picked up 10 and 4 on consecutive carries, before Quadree Henderson finished off the drive with a 10-yard TD run.
With Pitt leading 21-10, Georgia Tech put together their first touchdown drive of the game, culminating in a 31-yard TD pass from Justin Thomas to Ricky Jeune in the front corner of the end zone.
After a Pitt three-and-out. Georgia Tech was able to move down the field, gaining 43 yards in just 33 seconds. A late GT touchdown was called back on a penalty and the Yellow Jackets had to settle for a field goal to make it 21-20.
For the 5th time out of 6 games, Pitt would go into halftime with a lead.
The Panthers were able to stop the Georgia Tech offense on consecutive drives, stopping them on 4th down after the second half kickoff and then forcing a GT punt — their first and only one of the game. Pitt extended the lead, 27-20 with two field goals by Blewitt.
But the Georgia Tech offense quickly got back on track, scoring two touchdowns in five minutes, their second after a Pitt fumble on a jet sweep, to take their first lead of the game, 34-27.
With Pitt fans on Twitter melting down and the season in the balance, Pitt’s offense was able to comeback from a defecit for the first time this season. Peterman to Orndoff made it a tie ballgame. After the defense stopped the Jackets on 4th-and-1, Pitt was able to position itself for a game winning FG by Chris Blewitt.
The Panthers (4-2, 1-1) were able to get the victory, their first in the division, and keep their ACC Coastal title hopes alive for another week.
— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) October 8, 2016
Pitt finished the day with 215 yards on the ground, (35 shy of their average of 250.0 per game) and 192 through the air. James Conner led the Panthers with 62 rushing yards. Nathan Peterman finished the day 14/20 for 192 yards and a TD. The Panthers completed passes to seven different receivers. Ejuan Price had 6 tackles (1 for loss) and a sack.