DETROIT — When Pitt faced Eastern Michigan in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl, most weren’t thinking the Panthers would need a last-minute touchdown to come away with a victory.
Two-score favorites, the Panthers were expected to have a relatively easy win over the then-6-6 Eagles, which finished tied for last place in the MAC West.
That wasn’t to be, with Pitt stumbling into a 10-0 early hole that it took nearly the entire game to pull out of.
But when it became clear that Pitt was going to need a last-minute touchdown drive to come from behind and keep Eastern Michigan from an upset win, the Pitt faithful should have had plenty of faith in quarterback Kenny Pickett’s ability to lead them to paydirt.
After all, he’s done it more than any other Pitt quarterback in most of their lifetimes.
When Pickett connected with Taysir Mack in the end zone with 47 seconds left on the clock at Ford Field, it was the sixth game-winning scoring drive with under two minutes to play that he directed in his Pitt career and the fourth in the 2019 season.
Dating back to 1969, those are both Pitt highs. His fourth such scoring drive of the season broke a tie with Tyler Palko, who also had three in 2004. He had eclipsed Nate Peterman’s record four career final-two-minute scoring drives earlier in the season.
All seven of Palko’s and Peterman’s late-game winners came on field goals. Pitt needed four points to top the Eagles. Good thing all six of Pickett’s have come via touchdown, with No. 8 in blue and gold either running, throwing or receiving the winning score five of six times. That mark is also a Pitt best. Pete Gonzalez had two in 1997 and Dave Havern had two in 1970. No other player has had more than one.
“We had complete confidence in him,” senior safety Damar Hamlin said. “We’ve seen him do it all year. So once I knew the situation, we were going to go score. All I know I had to do was keep everybody composed on the sideline and get ready to get our adjustments for that last series.”
Pickett gave credit to the two-minute scheme installed by first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple for the success they had late in games in the 2019 season.
“We practiced that two-minute drill so many times from last year since we struggled in that area,” Pickett said. “Whip brings another element in. [Pat Narduzzi] did a great job with a great hire with coach ‘Whip’ coming in. I think the offense had a different mindset going in to this year. We’re sharper in those kinds of situations.”
Narduzzi attributed it to his team’s toughness and togetherness, along with the abilities of his quarterback.
“We just did it one more time,” he said “We talked about just doing it one more time. We didn’t care what the score was, we didn’t care about how it happened. But like our kids have done all year, they fight, they claw. They’ve got hearts.”
Whatever the reason, Pitt seems to have a clear blueprint for success that Pickett and company have been able to follow to historic levels over the last two seasons. And he still has one season to go.