Familiar loss haunts Pitt players

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For the second home game in a row, Pitt had a chance to build on some momentum it had sparked a week earlier.

And Friday, for the second time, the Panthers failed to capitalize.

Any positive vibes Pitt established with its win at Syracuse the week before evaporated into the frosty Pittsburgh night in a 41-31 loss against Miami.

When safety Jason Hendricks was asked after the game what went wrong in a game where Pitt fell behind, 14-0, in the first 3:30, he shook his head as he tried to come up with an answer.

"I don't know," he said. "We're just usually a play or two away. It's a part of football. Sometimes, it catches up to you if you start slow."

Just two weeks ago, the Panthers were coming off a prime-time, nationally televised win against Notre Dame, but they fell behind, 27-3, against North Carolina in their next game. Once again Friday, self-inflicted mistakes put them in an early hole.

Lafayette Pitts' fumble on the opening kickoff and a partial block of Matt Yoklic's first punt made it easy for the Hurricanes to open up an early lead.

"I thought we didn't play smart," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.

Pitt linebacker Anthony Gonzalez admitted that the back-and-forth momentum swings that have defined Pitt's season can take their toll on the team.

"We've just got to carry stuff over [from wins]," he said. "We need to continue to get better. It's tough going back and forth, it's hard."

Pitt will have one more chance to end the season on a positive note in its bowl game, which likely will not be determined until next Sunday.

The Panthers seniors, though, will not get another chance to play at Heinz Field. The loss Friday marked the first Pitt one on senior day since a 35-10 defeat against West Virginia closed out the home season in 2010.

"It's a tough one," Hendricks, a senior, said. "You never want to go out with a loss. You always hope to get a win. We started slow, we started with some miscommunication."

And, while the seniors will have one more chance to go out with a bowl win, much of the focus for Pitt already has turned to next season. The Panthers played 12 freshmen this season, including a burgeoning star in receiver Tyler Boyd, who broke Larry Fitzgerald's school record for receptions by a freshman.

"It's a rebuilding year," Boyd said. "If we get a good [recruiting] class in 2014, I think we'll be real strong. That's basically what we're doing right now."

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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