Blowing many late leads will define Pitt's football season


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When Pitt writes the final chapter of the 2011 football season, the main theme will be missed opportunities because the Panthers have mastered the art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Friday night, the Panthers led West Virginia, 17-7, at halftime and 20-14 going into the fourth quarter before losing, 21-20, when the Mountaineers scored a touchdown with just under seven minutes to play.

Pitt had two more opportunities to rally for a win, but the Panthers could not move the ball and absorbed another heartbreaking defeat.

It was the fourth time the Panthers have lost a game after holding a second-half lead.

It is the trend that will define their season.

"We need to close games better," said Pitt safety Andrew Taglianetti.

"Bottom line is we had a lead and we didn't finish again. We played well enough to win and we didn't win. That's frustrating."

And frustrating likely is the word that best describes the Panthers season given the number of close games they have lost.

Those losses are the difference between Pitt (5-6, 3-3 Big East) being the conference champion and needing a win against Syracuse (5-6, 3-3) and some good fortune to play in a bowl game.

Pitt, Syracuse, South Florida and Connecticut all need one more win to be bowl eligible, but the Big East has only one more available bowl spot.

The Panthers and Orange will play an elimination game Saturday.

But Pitt, given its history of not selling tickets, is not an attractive team for most bowl games, so the Panthers need a win against the Orange and losses by South Florida and Connecticut to guarantee themselves a bowl spot.

Which bowl the Panthers would get to go to depends on which team wins the conference's BCS berth.

The most likely spot for the Panthers is either the Beef 'O' Bradys bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

But first Pitt must beat Syracuse. To do that, it must find a way to close out and win a hard-fought game, and that is something it has managed only in a win against Louisville.

Pitt coach Todd Graham said after the loss at West Virginia Friday night that the Panthers would be in much better shape if they would have executed better down the stretch in a handful of games.

"We are playing extremely well in so many areas," Graham said, "but there are a few areas that are absolutely killing us."

He did not need to say more.


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com


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