Panthers Fall to Hokies 39-36

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For weeks, the headlines said that the Pitt Panthers were going to beat the Virginia Tech Hokies based on reputation. After all, they’ve beaten the Hokies the last few years-especially on National Television. After their impressive victory over the Virginia Cavaliers, the Panthers were expected to beat the Hokies and become Bowl eligible for the 8th straight year.

Well once again, that is why you play the game.

The Panthers had to put those Bowl-eligible plans on hold as they started awful and paid the price in a disappointing 39-36 loss to the Hokies in front of a nationally televised game at Heinz Field. ESPN was hoping to see another Pitt upset, instead they saw just how good the Hokies are this season.

Virginia Tech got things started with 2 Joey Slye field goals to give them a 6-0 lead the second one came quickly after the first when Pitt fumbled the kickoff but was unable to get it into the end zone thanks to Pitt’s pass rush. But it didn’t get any better for Pitt when QB Nate Peterman’s 2nd pass landed into the hands of Virginia Tech for an interception.

The Hokies took over at Pitt’s 30-yard line, but once again couldn’t convert due to Pitt’s inspired defense, forcing them to punt. Pitt took over at their own 9 and did nothing, resulting in their first punt of the game. The Hokies took over at their own 49 to close out the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Hokies once again were unable to get the ball into the end zone as Pitt’s run defense smothered QB Jerod Evans, but they extended their lead to 9-0 on Slye’s 3rd FG. But Pitt once again did nothing as Peterman almost threw his 2nd interception of the game as he continued to look out of sorts. Pitt once again punted the ball back to the Hokies who took over, did nothing and punted the ball back to the Panthers who took over at their own 16 and took it 8 plays and 84 yards into the end zone for their first TD of the game, closing the Hokies lead to 9-7.

The Hokies then scored their first TD of the game when Evans found TE Chris Cunningham for the score. The drive covered 7 plays 76 yards extending their lead to 16-7. But the Panthers quickly responded on a 5-play 81-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard TD by Conner. The big play on that drive was an impressive 71-yard pass play by Peterman to TE Scott Orndoff. The Hokies let the last 10 seconds run out to end the first half.

In the second half, Pitt received the ball and ran it right down the Hokies throats on a 7 play-75-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard TD by Conner, his 3rd of the game giving Pitt a 21-16 lead. The Hokies then added another Sly FG-his 4th to close the Panthers lead to 21-19. The Panthers took over at their own 25, did nothing and punted the ball back to the Hokies took over at their own 44. The Hokies then regained the lead on Slye’s 5th FG of the game, 22-21.

Pitt did nothing on their second straight drive and were forced to punt, the Hokies took over at their own 32. However, the Hokies kept scoring as RB Marshawn Williams ran it in from the 2-yard line extending their lead to 29-21. Evans returned to the game after sitting out a drive and continued to do the one thing that has hurt the Panthers all season-throw it long and deep on their defensive backs.

Pitt then woke up and tied the game with a 5-yard run by O-lineman Brian O’Neil and a Conner 2-point conversion. The drive covered 4 plays, 75 yards. But the Hokies snatched the lead back when Sly kicked his 6th FG of the game, giving them a 32-29 lead. His 6 FGs tied an ACC record. Pitt was unable to convert on their next drive and were forced to punt back to the Hokies, who took over at their own 43 and drove it right into the end zone as Evans continued to exploit the Panthers secondary as he found WR Isaiah Ford for a 16-yard TD extending their lead to 39-29.

The Panthers then went on a 90-yard drive to score their 4th TD of the game when Peterman found WR Jester Weah for a 7-yard TD to close the Hokies gap to 39-36 with 2:27 left. Virginia Tech forced Pitt to use their 3 timeouts to secure the victory.

Evans had a career game as he passed for 406 yards and 2 TDs. WR Bucky Hodges caught 6 passes for 145 yards, Ford 10 rec for 143 yards and Cam Philips caught 6 for 109 yards as they totally decimated the Panthers secondary. For the Panthers Conner was the true star as he rushed for 141 yards and 3 TDs. Orndoff caught 96 yards on only 2 receptions and Peterman passed for 267 yards, a TD and an INT.

The most alarming stat: Virginia Tech only punted once the entire game.

“Obviously, it’s a disappointing loss.” Said Pitt HC Pat Narduzzi “We left way too many plays on the field. It is what it is. You gotta make plays.”

Ray’s take: Seriously, what is wrong with the Panthers secondary?? I honestly believe that there is a memo sent to the rest of the ACC that the key to beating Pitt-is to just ‘throw the ball’. It’s one thing when the other team is just flat-out better, but it seems like the Panthers DB lack talent, fundamentals and the heart to cover the WRs..this is what’s hurting this team. You can also point the fingers at the offensive line as well for their mental mistakes at the beginning of the game. Plus, they looked sloppy and the Hokies capitalized. And next week the Panthers have The U, in Miami next week. Great.

After Miami, the Panthers will have their greatest test of their 2016 season when they take on #3 Clemson in South Carolina.

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