Pitt Stuns #15 UCF 35-34
[Pittsburgh,PA] The Pitt Panthers football team knew that in order to beat the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights, that they would need something special, and they got what they needed in ‘The Pitt Special.’
With 59 seconds left in the game on a 4th and 1 in a ‘Wildcat’ formation, Running back AJ Davis took the snap pitched the ball to Wide Reciever Aaron Mathews who rolled to his right and found Quarterback Kenny Pickett for a 3-yard Touchdown, giving Pitt the 35-34 victory over UCF, a team that hadn’t lost a game since 2016. Pitt also avenges their 45-14 loss to UCF last year in Orlando, Florida.
Last year, Pitt was outmatched, outmuscled and outplayed. This year, they were ready for them and their performance proved it.
“Well, that was a ballgame.” Said Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi “Two weeks in a row you guys have witnessed some great football by this football team. You talk about adversity, everything that our kids went through in that game, the ups and downs, and I tell them every week there’s going to be ups and downs, and you know, it was a virtual lock that they were going to beat us today, I guess, virtual lock last night when I watched that, like are you kidding me.”
Unlike last year’s game in which UCF punched Pitt in the mouth en-route to a 21-7 early lead, it was Pitt who did the early punching as they shut down the Knights on their opening drive and then they scored on 3 of their first drive when Quarterback Kenny Pickett drove them 75 yards on 9 plays which ended with a 2-yard TD run by RB AJ Davis.
Pitt’s defense then stuffed UCF as they put continued pressure on UCF QB Dillion Gabriel and even forced him into throwing an errant pass that landed in the hands of Pitt 24 Paul Campbell III to snuff out their drive. Pitt’s next Touchdown came in the 2nd quarter when Pickett found Wide Reciever Maurice Ffrench for a 2-yard pass to extend their lead to 14-0. The score was extended to 21-0 when Pitt blocked UCF’s punt and Linebacker Wendell Davis returned it for the 18-yard TD.
But then the Panthers began to slow down and make the same mistakes that cost them vs. Virginia and Penn State. Davis fumbled, the Wide Recievers began to drop passes and the defense couldn’t stop the Knights offense. RB Adrian Killins (who killed Pitt last year with 140 yards and 3 TDs) scored on an 11-yard run. Then a FG closed Pitt’s lead to 21-10 at halftime.
By the end of the 3rd quarter, Pitt was losing 31-21 as the Knights found their mojo while the Panthers seemed to lose theirs. Then it appeared that they would lose their QB as Pickett went down and headed to the locker room. Enter redshirt freshman Nick Patti, and he helped wake Pitt
up as they drove down the field and he found WR Dontavius Butler-Jenkins for a 6-yard TD pass to close the lead to 31-28.
Pickett would eventually return: “Kenny didn’t want to come out. I don’t even want to tell you what he said on the field, but I’m good, I’m good.” Said Pickett “We just wanted to make sure he was good. So, we went in, just made sure we evaluated him. And he comes storming out of the locker room ready to roll.”
It remained that way until late in the 4th quarter. After the Panthers failed on another 4th down Red Zone drive (like they did last week vs. Penn State) when instead of going for it, Kicker Alex Kessmann attempted a 41-yard FG, only to miss it. (His second of the game). It was easy to think that the Knights would have finally sealed the victory, but the Panthers wouldn’t let them.
When they held UCF to a FG to extend their lead to 34-28, the Panthers offense lined up for their final drive, and the ‘Pitt Special’ was born.
“Well, I went over to them, and I said, ‘Hey, there’s four minutes to go.” Said Narduzzi “We take the clock all the way down and we make plays.’ Have focus, attention to details, which again, we didn’t have a week ago. And our guys — again, we learned from our lessons, and I think that’s the biggest thing is you learn.”
And about the ‘Pitt Special,’ Narduzzi said “We’ve practiced it a lot, and it’s called a Pitt Special, and it was special today. And Aaron Mathews made a nice throw. And you talk about Kenny Pickett and the toughness that he shows, throwing the ball in the pocket, running, scrambling for 1st downs. And then, by gosh, he scores a touchdown, reception for a touchdown. So, Pitt special.”
Pickett finished the game with 224 yards passing, a TD and a TD reception, the first in his collegiate career. The Pitt running game collectively ran for 165 yards and a TD and WR Taysir Mack caught 6 passes for 87 yards. The defense sacked Gabriel 6 times and intercepted him twice. (Campbell and DB Jason Pinnock)
For the Knights, Gabriel passed for 338 yards with 2 TDs and 2 interceptions. WR Gabriel Davis caught 10 passes for 151 yards and 2 TDs and WR Tre Nixon caught 7 passed for 136 yards.
‘Give Credit to Pitt.” Said UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel “They played a good game and found a way to be plus-one on the scoreboard.”
The Panthers (2-2, 0-1 ACC) will now continue to enjoy this win and wrap up their non- conference portion of the schedule when they take on Delaware next Saturday at Heinz Field.
“But our kids hung together.” Said Narduzzi. “We talked about one of the keys was sticking together as a team, and our kids, I mean, you talk about sticking together, there was every phase, and obviously there’s things we’ve got to clean up, fumbles and — we can’t turn the ball over down on the 27-yard line, but our kids played incredible, and I’m proud of them.”
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