You can only play with fire so many times before it burns you, and Pitt wasn’t just burned, it was torched by a quarterback who had never thrown a collegiate pass.
It’s been a season in which the Pitt defense has held its own — and more — for the majority of games, giving the Pitt offense chances to find the end zone and walk away with a win, and once again, Pitt didn’t do enough when it mattered to actually walk off the field with a win.
A questionable call on a 3rd-and-8 quarterback dash as Pitt tried to bleed the clock away very late in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a punt, gave Wake Forest the football right at midfield off yet another poor punt from Caleb Junko. And Pitt was unable to stop the Demon Deacons for the second straight possession, eventually giving up a 15-yard touchdown to Cameron Hite to take the lead with seven seconds left.
And Wake Forest walked off the field at Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium Saturday night with a 21-17 win.
It was especially crushing after Pitt put together its second-best drive of the night, driving 75 yards to take the lead with a 22-yard touchdown toss to Bub Means with just 1:30 left in the game. Wake Forest snatched a victory right out from underneath the nose of Pitt.
Veilleux completed 28-of-45 pass attempts (62%) for 302 yards and two touchdowns, C’Bo Flemister ran for a career-high 105 yards and Bub Means set a career-high with nine receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. And it all resulted in naught.
It was a nearly perfect start for Pitt, which isn’t something that’s been said all that often this season, but — obviously — the feeling of perfection didn’t linger for too long.
Veilleux completed 7-of-8 pass attempts for 66 yards and a touchdown — Kenny Johnson’s first career receiving touchdown, actually, on a nice crossing route in the end zone — on the first possession. But playcalling killed any semblance of momentum throughout the first half.
Whether it was blown-up screens, quarterback keepers that lost yardage or questionable decision-making on certain down-and-distance situations, Pitt managed just 17 more yards on its five drives than on just the opening possession alone.
And while Pitt handled first-time starter Santino Marucci and the Wake Forest offense well in the first half, allowing just 92 yards, but 55 of those yards — and the only touchdown of the first half — came on a two-play drive at the end of the first half to knot the score at seven.
After missing on a couple of RPO opportunities, Marucci hit running back Demond Claiborne for a 23-yard play, helped forward by a Brandon George facemask, and he finished the drive himself with an 18-yard touchdown.
Wake Forest, a fan of the limited play-calling approach, ran it three straight times to open the second half. And Pitt didn’t show much — if any — adjustment of its own.
Pitt mustered third quarter drives of 11, 39 and 4 yards. Two punts, a turnover on downs and very, very, very little offensive cohesion. But even so, the defense gave the Panthers a fourth possession in the third quarter courtesy of P.J. O’Brien Jr.’s first career interception, and while Pitt couldn’t convert with a touchdown, the Panthers regained the lead with a Ben Sauls field goal from 41 yards out.
The defense protected the new-found lead with a run stop on fourth down at the Pitt 32, giving the ball back to Veilleux and the offense, but once again, the offense couldn’t manage to do just about anything.
Caleb Junko punted the ball away with just about six minutes left in the fourth, nursing a three point lead, and Wake Forest put together its most complete drive of the afternoon — capped once again by Claiborne, dashing in from 42 yards out to take the first lead of the night for the Demon Deacons.
Trailing 14-10, with 3:02 left in the game, Pitt had a chance. And, for all of the angst throughout the afternoon, Veilleux and the offense delivered when it mattered. But the offense couldn’t do it twice.
And the third (maybe fourth) poor Junko punt gave Wake Forest the chance to walk off with a win. And Marucci and the Demon Deacons did just that.
Now sitting at 2-5 (1-3 ACC), Pitt will stay on the road next weekend, heading to South Bend, Ill. to take on Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium.