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Pitt Avoids Chaos at Duke, Holding off Blue Devils’ Comeback in 33-30 Win

Taysir Mack and Jared Wayne celebrate a Pitt touchdown at Duke on Oct. 6, 2019. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

Pitt Avoids Chaos at Duke, Holding off Blue Devils’ Comeback in 33-30 Win

DURHAM, N.C. — With a 23-point lead midway through the third quarter, it seemed like Pitt had wrapped up a win at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Then, due to carelessness with the ball, a reckless attitude on offense and an undisciplined style of play, that advantage disappeared. Duke charged all the way back and took a five-point lead with 90 seconds to play.

When all hope in Pitt’s offense seemed lost, the Panthers covered 82 yards in 47 seconds over four plays to take a three-point lead. V’Lique Carter caught a third-down Kenny Pickett pass in the middle of a Blue Devil defense, spun out of a tackle and sprinted into pay dirt.

On Duke’s next drive, Patrick Jones came up with a strip-sack and Phil Campbell III recovered the loose ball. The crisis had been adverted. Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers escaped Brooks Field with a 33-30 win in front of an announced crowd of 22,610 fans on a cool and cloudy Saturday night. It was the first ACC victory of the season for the Panthers.

The defense was led by redshirt sophomore Paris Ford, who intercepted a pair of passes – one of which he ran back 26 yards for a score – and tallied a team-high 12 tackles. Although, epitomizing how weird this game was, Ford was a hero in the first half, but in the second half fumbled a punt and then was ejected for targeting.

Things didn’t start well for Pitt (4-2; 1-1 ACC). They came up empty on their first two drives, totaling 27 yards on nine plays. Duke grabbed an early 3-0 lead, driving 65 yards on their first series to set up a field goal.

But then, something got into Pitt’s defense. The Panthers ended Duke’s second drive with a fumble – recovered by Habakkuk Baldonado – and then Ford made arguably the biggest play of his collegiate career thus far. Duke quarterback Quentin Harris dropped back and threw a hard pass into the slot, but the Blue Devils receiver was guarded tightly by Jackson, who tipped the pass into the air. Ford, the Steel Valley product, picked the ball cleanly out of the atmosphere and charged into the endzone. It was Ford’s first collegiate interception and his first score.

Then – unfortunately for Duke – Harris found Ford again on the next play after the kickoff. Ford ran that one back 22 yards, but then a personal foul by Pitt pushed the return back a bit. The Panthers turned it into a field goal to take a touchdown lead.

Pitt’s offense struggled often in the game too, and really failed to put together a long, meaningful drive. The Panthers’ pair of offensive touchdowns were boosted by plays from the defense or special teams that put them in good field position.

Maurice Ffrench ran back a punt 50 yards to the Duke 19-yard-line in the second quarter, and then Kenny Pickett found Taysir Mack in the endzone on the very next play. A fumble recovered in the third quarter by Deslin Alexandre set up a four-yard Pickett pass for a touchdown to Nakia Griffin-Stewart.

It was Pickett’s first game action in two weeks, after he missed last week’s home win over Delaware with an apparent undisclosed injury. The 6-foot-2 junior completed 29-of-48 passes for 268 yards and three scores, while also throwing two interceptions.

In the absence of starter A.J. Davis and backup Vincent Davis, who both missed the game with undisclosed injuries, Pitt largely strayed away from the traditional rushing attack it was known for last season, as running backs Todd Sibley and V’Lique Carter combined for 78 yards on 25 touches.

Duke’s offensive resurgence late in the game was kickstarted by Pitt turnovers. Ford coughed up a punt return in the third quarter that led to a four-yard punch-in from Harris, and then Duke put together a nine-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter after Dontavius Butler-Jenkins lost control of a reception. A pick from Pickett led to another rushing score by Harris.

Penalties from Pitt helped Duke get back in the game too, as the Panthers were flagged 15 times for 145 yards. Duke dominated in time of possession, having the ball for more than 44 minutes, and Pitt struggled on third downs, converting just six of 18 attempts.

The Panthers are off next week, then hit the road again, taking their unpredictable offense and strong defense to the Carrier Dome for a meeting with Syracuse.

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Eddie Futch
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Eddie Futch

You can say they were u disciplined, but you can see the referees still have the Anti-Pitt thing going on. What they did was shameless. Duke never held. They never hit late either. They did their best to help Duke win. What a joke! The call on Paris Ford was gutless, too.

Section 122
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Section 122

Does Paris Ford have to sit out the next game due to the ejection like the high school rule? This is the 1st time I can recall a Pitt player getting tossed out for targeting.

kmp30
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kmp30

I think they said the first half of the next game.

Eddie Futch
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Eddie Futch

Section 122. Yes he does. The player was lowering his head and as a safety making tackle he could not get any lower and went in with his shoulder. That was a terrible call and impacts Pitt now next game, too.

Pittband
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Pittband

Andre Powell as special team coach has a lot of questions to answer. First among all is why was PF back to receive the muffed punt? Ffrench had received all the punts against Duke then PF attempts to field the punt on the 5 instead of getting out of the way. Having PF’s ejected was a blessing. He missed a tackle on the next play because his was thinking about the muff and later committed a pf before the blown targeting call. He plays with skill and passion but didn’t show the maturity when needed. Let’s reset and take a… Read more »

Clark Martineau
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Clark Martineau

Coach Narduzzi said that he was the one that chose Ford for the punt return.
Ford is a slippery runner. I’m sure he felt he could gain more yards with the ball than by letting it go into the end zone.

James
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James

Refs were poor, also they called a few blindsided blocking penalties on Pitt that were questionable

James
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James

Sibley had 60 yards on 12 carries, they should give him the ball more, their sweeps and East to west running style is not going to work because their line men can’t execute their blocks. Sibley is more north to south and fits a power running style. Whipples play calling is questionable they are a pass happy offense and turn the ball over constantly giving opponents a short field to work with. The offense gave Virginia a lot of points, Delaware and now Duke, they were lucky usually teams that play sloppy and lose momentum usually loose. I’ll give them… Read more »

Clark Martineau
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Clark Martineau

Congratulations Pitt on a TEAM win. You literally took this game from Duke after giving it to them.
There is always going to be some adversity in life; an interception, a fumble, a chippy opponent. The important thing to learn is your reaction at that time is what determines whether you win or lose.
How many personal fouls were there? How many roughing penalties? We can not expect to win games giving away 145 yards in penalties.
You either learn from bad experiences or repeat them again and again.
Learn, practice, improve! Hail to Pitt!!

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