As Christian Veilleux stood within the bowels of Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium Saturday night, he kept his head held high. He knew that he did what he could against Wake Forest.
And when he took off on 3rd-and-8 late in the fourth quarter, with under a minute remaining in the contest, he knew the exact yardage he needed to convert the first down. When he looked back on it, he felt like he had it. But it ultimately didn’t matter what he thought.
The officials marked Veilleux short, determining that he began his slide short of the line to gain, and Veilleux regrets how it played out.
“Just the basic run read, defensive end crashed, so I pulled it and I felt like I had my eyes on the sticks, I knew where I had to go, probably should’ve dove or just go out of bounds — gonna be hard to get over that one,” Veilleux said Saturday night.
Caleb Junko punted the ball away on the ensuing 4th-and-1, a poor 32-yard boot, on a night in which he struggled mightily, and Wake Forest needed to drive just 52 yards to walk off with a win. Santino Marucci, in his first career start, hit Cameron Hite six plays later for a 15-yard game-winning touchdown with seven seconds left.
I know it’s a subjective call, determined by where the referee thinks the player begins his slide, but I don’t think it’s a play in which Veilleux began his slide short of the sticks. And I’m not alone.
“I’m sorry,” ACC Network’s EJ Manuel said on a postgame show immediately after the game, “but that’s the worst call I’ve seen.”
Pitt did a whole lot of nothing in the 10 drives between its first 75-yard touchdown and its second, mustering just a 41-yard field goal from Ben Sauls, but that doesn’t change the fact that a subjective call changed the course of the game.
Pat Narduzzi said the Pitt booth thought Veilleux reached the line to gain. But he also said that Veilleux needed to find a way to ensure that he achieved a first down.
“Did he slide butt first? I thought he had it, it was a great call by Frank and the quarterback keeper was there,” Narduzzi said Saturday night. “You just gotta dive and get it. You gotta go headfirst and not make any doubt about it. And rookie mistake, something we’ll learn from and the game’s over if we get that first down, period.”
It, obviously, didn’t lead to a first down. Veilleux said that the third down call played out the way it was supposed to, with the Wake Forest defense playing him, so he tucked the ball and ran. He could’ve dove head first, could’ve just ran out of bounds or whatever, but he did reach the line to gain.
It just wasn’t ruled a first down by the officials, and it ultimately led to the Wake Forest game-winning touchdown. It wasn’t as if Pitt played a clean — or even a good — game. Pitt probably didn’t deserve to fly back to Pittsburgh with a win, but the decision to mark the slide short of the sticks was a game-changing decision nonetheless.
“I definitely felt like I had it, gonna have to watch the film, but it’s a tough one,” Veilleux said. “Just gonna have to get over it and move on. I’ll see the film, and then I’ll truly have a piece of mind.
“I just know the rule, when you start the slide that’s when they down you, so maybe I started early. To me, it felt like I had the sticks. But then again, I’ll watch the film then I’ll know.”
Veilleux finished his second career start with 302 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-45 pass attempts (62%), and while he left some throws on the field, he also displayed a level of competitive talent that should have Pitt excited.