ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- For the better part of three quarters Saturday, Pitt kept Navy's unique triple-option offense in check. The Panthers had their own struggles, but had done enough defensively to cling to a one-possession lead for most of the game.
Late in the third quarter, though, the Midshipmen started churning out the medium-length runs that can drive opposing defenses crazy. Those runs turned into first downs, which then turned into points.
Navy scored twice in the final 3:52, including a 30-yard field goal from Nick Sloan as time expired, to beat Pitt, 24-21.
"Defensively, there were moments that we played really sound, good football," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "And obviously, they put a couple of drives together. Bottom line is we got beat."
The offense didn't do the Panthers any favors late, either. After Navy tied the score, 21-21, on a 2-yard run from quarterback Keenan Reynolds, the Panthers got the ball back at their 25, but went three-and-out with one sack and one scramble for no gain from quarterback Tom Savage.
A 20-yard punt from Matt Yoklic gave the Midshipmen the ball at the Pitt 49, and they methodically drove 34 yards over the final 2:17 to set up the winning field goal.
"I think we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times," Savage said. "Good teams don't do that. We've got to execute better and we've got to win these games."
Pitt had three timeouts left on the final drive, but Chryst said he elected not to use them in a last-ditch attempt at one more possession.
"I was thinking about that, in hindsight maybe you would or should," he said. "Their kicker had been struggling, and I was kind of trying to play that guessing game."
Given the way Pitt's defense shut down Navy most of the game, it seemed unlikely that it would even come down to a field goal.
The Midshipmen had just six first downs in the first half and controlled the ball for 7:42.
Starting with 7:43 left in the third quarter, though, they took control of the ball and steadily began churning out consistent runs with their option offense. That drive produced seven first downs and ate up 8:15. It ended with a 9-yard touchdown run from Quinton Singleton with 14:28 left in the fourth quarter that gave Navy a 14-13 lead.
"Honestly, I really think they just started hitting on us," Pitt defensive end Bryan Murphy said. "We were keeping pretty much the same game plan. It's hard with an option team. They can hurt you in so many different ways."
That score meant Pitt would need to complete its first fourth-quarter comeback since the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl to leave Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium victorious, and the ensuing drive actually made it look like it would be up to the task.
Pitt responded with a 75-yard, 11-play drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Savage -- who finished the game 20 of 27 for 203 yards and two touchdowns -- to Tyler Boyd. A successful 2-point conversion gave the Panthers a 21-14 lead.
But, once again, Navy came back clicking and responded with a tying touchdown. Reynolds completed two passes for 15 yards on the drive, and also converted a third-and-5 at the Pitt 33 with a 31-yard run to set up his 2-yard touchdown run one play later.
Reynolds finished as Navy's leading rusher with 21 rushes for 93 yards and a touchdown.
"Honestly, it's very disappointing," Murphy said. "Any time you lose a game is very disappointing, especially this one. We had it. We just did too many things wrong, everybody, me included."
While Navy's offense clicked into gear late in the game, Pitt's moved in fits and starts all game. The Panthers ran the ball at will up the middle early in the game, but ended two long first-half drives with field goals. Only a 12-yard touchdown pass from Savage to Devin Street with 1:41 left in the half gave Pitt a 13-7 lead heading into the locker room.
"I thought early we did a good job of running the ball consistently," Chryst said. "They made some adjustments and made some plays, so we couldn't just run at will on that. That's the game."
Now, Pitt must regroup and go back on the road Saturday against another triple-option team, Georgia Tech. Pitt still needs two more wins to secure bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive season.
"It's not like we're not good enough," Street said. "We're definitely good enough but we've got to put the puzzle pieces together. They're scattered right now."
With nine catches Saturday, Devin Street, pictured above, became Pitt's career leader in pass receptions.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @SWernerPG First Published October 26, 2013 4:33 PM