CHARLOTTE, NC. — Pitt came into the ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday hoping to prove that they belonged on the big stage with the No. 2 Clemson Tigers.
Any thoughts of that being the case went out the window in the first 13 seconds.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne took the first play from scrimmage for a 75-yard touchdown and the Tigers rolled to a 35-10 victory, clinching their fifth consecutive ACC championship.
Etienne was the driving force, rushing for 156 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
Clemson took advantage of three turnovers by Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett.
In the first quarter, Pickett fumbled while attempting to scramble from the pocket. It was recovered in mid-air by Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who returned it to the Pitt 3-yard line. Etienne scored one play later.
Late in the second half, Pickett threw an interception to Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell, who returned it to the Pitt 10-yard line. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence hit receiver Tee Higgins one play later to give the Tigers a 28-10 lead heading into the break.
It was the second time Lawrence and Higgins connected for a score. Lawrence finished 12 of 24 for 118 yards and the two scores.
Qadree Ollison scored the only touchdown for Pitt in the second quarter on a one-yard dive. He finished with 56 yards on 13 carries. Darrin Hall had 86 yards on 14 carries.
Hall eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier, finishing the game with 1,021 yards on the season. He joined Ollison as Pitt backs over 1,000 yards, the first time in program history the Panthers have had two 1,000-yard rushers.
After a scoreless third quarter, Clemson added on in the fourth with a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Adam Choice and a 4-yard scoring scamper by freshman Lyn-J Dixon. Clemson finished the game with 301 yards rushing as a team.
Pitt’s passing offense had significant struggles. In addition to the three turnovers, Pickett finished 4 of 16 for eight yards.
Pitt (7-6) will find out its bowl fate on Saturday. Clemson (13-0) will likely advance to a College Football Playoff semifinal.