Pitt beats Syracuse, 17-16, to clinch bowl eligibility
November 23, 2013 10:52 PM
Pitt's Kevin Weatherspoon is tackled by Syracuse's Lewellyn Coker on Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
Pitt's Aaron Donald (97) goes after Syracuse's Terrel Hunt during the team's 17-16 win against Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Paul Chryst said one of his players called the timeout, but wouldn't specify who.
Aaron Donald said Chryst called it from the sideline as the Panthers scrambled into their defensive formation.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter who it was, just that the timeout got to the referees in time.
It negated what could have been a winning fake field goal for Syracuse, instead forcing the Orange to go for it on fourth-and-8. Lafayette Pitts broke up quarterback Terrel Hunt's pass, and Pitt escaped Carrier Dome with a 17-16 Atlantic Coast Conference victory.
The win ensures Pitt (6-5, 3-4) will be bowl-eligible for the sixth consecutive season, but wouldn't have come if someone hadn't noticed tight end Kendall Moore lingering near the sideline on Ryan Norton's 53-yard field goal attempt with 1:01 to go.
Holder Charley Loeb threw a pass to Moore, who had nothing but turf in the 35 yards between him and the end zone, but officials called the play back because someone from Pitt signaled for a timeout.
"We were all over the place," Donald said. "[The timeout] was best for us, and I'm happy we did because he was wide open over there."
As has become the standard for him, Donald disrupted Syracuse's offense all game from his defensive tackle position, breaking into the backfield quickly and making it difficult for the Orange to establish a rhythm.
After a week in which he was named a finalist or semifinalist for virtually every individual defensive award, Donald finished with 9 tackles (8 solo), 3.5 tackles for losses and 2 quarterback hurries.
He also made his presence felt on special teams when he blocked an extra point in the first quarter that ended up the difference in the final score.
"I think that's the mark of a great one," Chryst said. "Your eyes go to him, he sees it and he gives you the nod, and more often than not he comes through."
Pitt needed every one of those defensive stops Saturday, as the offense scored enough to win but also moved in fits and starts for much of the game.
Isaac Bennett put the Panthers ahead, 17-16, on a 5-yard run on the final play of the third quarter, and the final 15 minutes were all about just holding on.
Pitt had the ball for just 4:40 of the fourth quarter as the Orange twice looked in position to take the lead. Norton missed a 41-yard field goal with 8:38 left, and Hunt's fourth-down pass attempt bounced harmlessly to the turf on Syracuse's final play.
The Pitt offense, meanwhile, ran only nine plays in the final quarter and gained 7 yards. Syracuse (5-6, 3-4) outgained Pitt, 307-239, in total offensive yards.
Pitt was hampered by the loss of receiver Devin Street, who was questionable with an ankle injury coming into the game and left after just a couple of plays.
In his absence, tight end Manasseh Garner had a career-high seven catches for 61 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown reception that put the Panthers up, 10-6, in the second quarter.
"I definitely took pride in stepping up for my team," Garner said.
Freshman Tyler Boyd also picked up some of the slack with 10 catches for 82 yards.
Quarterback Tom Savage finished 28 of 41 for 218 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception on a deflected pass in the fourth quarter.
Savage faced constant pressure from Syracuse's blitz-heavy defense, but got the ball out quickly with a game plan that seemed predicated on short drops and short passes. He was sacked three times and faced five hurries.
"He just manned up and brought out all the dog that was in him," Boyd said.
Pitt gave up a late field goal in the second quarter after Kevin Weatherspoon fumbled a punt in his territory, and Syracuse pulled ahead, 16-10, on a 42-yard pass from Hunt to Alvin Cornelius with 6:25 left in the third.
For the second time in three weeks, though, the Panthers kept their cool and responded with a touchdown drive.
"It certainly wasn't pretty," Chryst said. "I thought we had some good responses, though. That was a good win to get out."
Most of all, the win means Pitt likely will head to a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season. The destination is still to be determined and since the ACC already has 10 bowl-eligible teams, Pitt may have to take another league's slot.
All that, though, is a worry for another day.
"I'm thankful as heck because it gives you the opportunity for one more game with that group," Chryst said. "I appreciate what they're doing and that's pretty special, I think."
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