Pitt's two late chances come up short vs. Syracuse

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- During the off week, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said the team's main goal was cleaning up self-inflicted mistakes that cost the Panthers in their first four games. After a loss Friday night to Syracuse, it looks like Chryst's team may have some more work to do.

The Panthers dropped a 14-13 decision to the Orange at Carrier Dome, squandering a couple of late opportunities that could have swung the game.

Pitt battled back after trailing, 14-0, after the first quarter, but couldn't get that final score to complete the comeback.

"I tip my hat to Syracuse," Chryst said. "They made more plays and won the game. I thought it was a physical game."

Trailing by one, the Panthers worked the ball inside the Syracuse 30 twice in the fourth quarter, but both times came away with no points.

On their first drive of the final quarter, a healthy dose of Ray Graham runs worked the ball to the Orange 29, but two penalties and a sack on quarterback Tino Sunseri pushed them back to their 47, forcing a punt.

"We felt like ... we really started getting on a roll there," center Ryan Turnley said. "We knew what they were bringing and we were running the ball a little bit with Ray."

Pitt got the ball back, and Sunseri looked dialed in as he drove the Panthers to the Syracuse 17, but an intentional grounding penalty, followed by a sack off a corner blitz forced the Panthers to punt again.

That would end up being the Panthers' final chance, as Syracuse salted away the final 4:52 on the ground.

"We felt like we were in the right place at the right time and we were able to capitalize, but Syracuse was able to make a play and you have to give them credit," Sunseri said.

Sunseri finished 25 of 33 for 319 yards, his second consecutive 300-yard game.

He was sacked five times, but also hung in the pocket and took some tough hits as he threw.

"You appreciate that, and that's what a quarterback at this level should do," Chryst said.

The Orange, though, completely shut down Pitt's ground attack. The Panthers managed a paltry 27 net rushing yards on 37 attempts, an average of 0.7 yards per carry. With freshman Rushel Shell limited due to injury, Ray Graham ran for 64 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.

"We were able to pound some, but certainly I didn't feel like we were able to run consistently," Chryst said.

Much like its two losses to open the season, Pitt got off to a nearly disastrous start against the Orange.

The Panthers went three-and-out to open the game, then allowed Syracuse to march down the field on a 70-yard, eight-play touchdown drive that spotted the Orange an early 7-0 lead.

Kevin Harper missed a 42-yard field goal on Pitt's next drive to keep the Panthers scoreless. He finished 1 of 2 in the first half, making a 40-yarder at the end of the second quarter.

Just as Pitt was starting to establish itself with a quick defensive stop, the Panthers shot themselves in the foot once again. Toward the end of the first quarter, Sunseri found tight end Drew Carswell over the middle, but Carswell fumbled as he was going down. Syracuse's Dyshawn Davis scooped up the ball and ran 52 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

After the first quarter, Pitt's defense turned around and silenced Syracuse. After its first drive of the second quarter, Syracuse never advanced past Pitt's 42.

Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib, who entered the game as the Big East Conference's leading passer, completed 19 of 30 passes for 185 yards and no touchdowns.

The Panthers pulled within one midway through the third quarter on a 27-yard Harper field goal. Sunseri completed two key third-down passes -- one 14 yards to Cam Saddler and another 46 yards to Mike Shanahan -- to keep the drive alive.

The completion to Shanahan converted a third-and-2, and got Pitt to the Orange 11. The Panthers only got 1 more yard from there, though, and Harper's field goal made it 14-13 with 1:57 to play in the third.

On the drive after Davis' fumble recovery, Pitt went 62 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7. Graham finished the drive with a 1-yard scoring run, but Sunseri completed 5 of 6 attempts on the series for 40 yards. Two of those completions came on third downs.

The Panthers play Louisville at 11 a.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 6, 2012 4:30 AM


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