WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The first half wasn’t pretty, but the Pittsburgh Panthers played well enough in the second half to beat Wake Forest and book a trip to the ACC Championship Game.
After trailing 10-6 at halftime to Wake Forest on Saturday, Pitt scored on three touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett in the second half and cruised to a 34-13 victory over the Demon Deacons on a sunny and brisk afternoon at BB&T Field in front of an announced crowd of 25,609 fans.
The win was the fourth straight for Pitt (7-4; 6-1 ACC) and it clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division for the Panthers, who are now set to face Clemson on Dec. 1 in Charlotte for conference crown.
Much of Pitt’s success lately has been because of its running game. The Panthers had rushed for an average of 410 yards per-game over its last three contests.
But in Pitt’s first ever meeting with Wake Forest on a football field, running the football would not be the Panthers’ path to success. Pitt punted on three of its first four possessions, two of which were three-and-outs. The non-punt ended in a turnover-on-downs after Pitt failed to convert a fourth down play.
Wake Forest stacked the box on Pitt and bottled up their rushers in the first half. The Panthers rushed 21 times and gained just 58 yards, an average of 2.76 yards per-carry.
Darrin Hall did find the end-zone for Pitt’s first points of the day, strolling through a hole wide enough to drive two trucks through for a two-yard score. But that second quarter touchdown was set up by Pickett’s arm and an acrobatic catch from Maurice Ffrench. Facing third-and-13, Pickett fired from the pocket and found Ffrench over the middle. The 5-foot-11 junior boxed out a defender, leaped into the air and came down with a 31-yard grab.
Wake retook to the lead just before the half as quarterback Jamie Newman ended a nine-play drive by hitting Alex Bachman in stride down the right sideline for a 28-yard touchdown. Newman completed 15-of-30 passes on the day, and threw one touchdown pass, but Pitt also intercepted him twice and held him to -8 rushing yards.
Instead of returning to the running game after intermission, Pitt continued to pass. Pickett connected with Taysir Mack down the left sideline for 31 yards, which put the Panthers in the red-zone. Pickett then found Rafael Araujo-Lopes in the back corner of the end-zone for a four-yard score.
After forcing the Demon Deacons to go three-and-out, Pickett found Mack again, this time over the middle for a strike that would go 63 yards for a touchdown.
Pickett tossed his third touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter, finding Ffrench for a 23-yard score. The Oakhurst, New Jersey native finished the day completing 23-of-30 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Pickett’s performance marked the first time a Pitt quarterback had thrown for more than 300 yards since Max Browne gained 410 yards through the air against Rice.
Now enjoying its first four-game winning streak since 2015, Pitt has one game remaining before the ACC Championship game. The Panthers will face the Miami Hurricanes in Coral Gables, Florida on Nov. 24 at 3:30 p.m.
WE GOIN’ TO THE ‘SHIP??
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) November 17, 2018
- Senior Pitt defensive end Dewayne Hendrix traveled to Winston-Salem, but he did not dress for this game. He has an injury, but the nature of it was not disclosed by Pitt. Hendriz has 25 tackles and four sacks this season.
- With 52 rushing yards, Qadree Ollison has moved into ninth place on the Pitt all-time rushing list, passing Elliott Walker (1974-77) who had 2,748 yards in his career.
- Wake and Pitt are not scheduled to meet again until 2023 at Heinz Field.
- Wake has not beaten an ACC team at home this season.
- Freshman Pitt defensive lineman John Morgan traveled and dressed for this game.