Pitt rides big first half to 45-34 win over Louisville
PITTSBURGH (AP) The big lead had nearly vanished. Pittsburgh's momentum too.
Yet there was hardly a sense of panic on the sideline as Louisville took over with a chance to tie early in the fourth quarter Saturday. Sorry, the days when the Panthers get tight in tight situations are over. That's simply not first-year coach Pat Narduzzi's style.
''He takes chances calling plays no matter what the score is,'' linebacker Ejuan Price said. ''We get that energy and confidence that he exudes.''
Hard to argue with the results. The Panthers forced a quick three-and-out, then drove the length of the field to finish off a 45-34 victory and serve notice that ''Pitt-ing'' - local slang for blowing seemingly winnable games - is no longer an acceptable practice.
Nathan Peterman tossed four touchdowns in the second quarter and Price finished with five sacks as the Panthers (8-3, 6-1 ACC) held on after nearly letting a 25-point advantage get away. Qadree Ollison ran for 152 yards and a score against the nation's 11th-ranked run defense. Tyler Boyd racked up 153 yards of total offense as Pitt reached the eight-win plateau in the regular season for the first time since 2009.
''We're all preaching to each other, this bunch can do it, this bunch can lead Pitt and bring Pitt back to the top and put Pitt back on the map,'' Boyd said. ''We're pulling it out and it's amazing to us.''
The Panthers saw their slim chances of catching No. 12 North Carolina for the ACC Coastal Division title evaporate when the Tar Heels edged Virginia Tech earlier in the day. Narduzzi kept the result from his team, figuring it had more pressing matters at hand.
While a spot in the conference title game is out of reach, Pitt can get to nine victories with a win next Friday at home against reeling Miami (Fla.) in the regular season finale, heady territory for a program that's spent this decade spinning its wheels.
''You can't play scared,'' Narduzzi said. ''You're playing to win; you're not playing to not lose. That's our kids' mentality. They came after (Louisville). That's what we're going to do. That's how we coach.''
Lamar Jackson threw for 141 yards and a score and ran for another after replacing ineffective Kyle Bolin late in the first half. Jamari Staples caught nine passes for 194 yards and a touchdown but the Cardinals (6-5, 5-3) saw their four-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt.
''We just flat got beat,'' Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said.
The Panthers have been rejuvenated by Narduzzi, fueled by his aggressive mindset and an offense that doesn't beat itself. Pitt didn't turn it over and held the ball for more than 37 minutes, riding Peterman's arm to an early lead and Ollison's legs to run the clock in the second half to protect it.
''You can't give up that many long, big drives and have your offense standing on the sideline,'' Petrino said. ''That really hurt us.''
Ollison, who went over 1,000 yards on the season, keyed the late nine-play, 60-yard drive that set up a Chris Blewitt's short field goal with 5:25 to play to give the Panthers some space.
Louisville's last chance ended when Jackson threw incomplete on fourth down near midfield with 4:20 left. The Panthers took over and ran out the remaining time, Narduzzi and his resilient team spilling onto the field as the clock ticked down.
The Cardinals were arguably the hottest team in the ACC outside of Clemson and North Carolina, picking themselves up after an 0-3 start behind a defense that founds its bearings while Petrino's offense sorted itself out.
All of that momentum, however, vanished in a stunning first half in which Peterman and the Panthers did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to.
Pitt scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions in the second quarter alone as Peterman spread it around. He connected with Boyd and Dontez Ford for long scores and twice flipped the ball to seldom-used fullback George Aston for the other two. When Avonte Maddox picked off a Bolin throw and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown, the Panthers were up 42-17 with 35 seconds to go before the break.
Petrino then pulled Bolin in favor of Jackson, who started early in the season only to lose it to Bolin earlier this month. The freshman gave the Cardinals an immediate spark, hitting Staples - who was bafflingly single covered - for a 49-yard strike with 3 seconds left in the half to pull the Cardinals within 18.
Not that it mattered in the end. Pitt never lost the lead or its confidence.
''Give Louisville credit, they made some plays,'' Narduzzi said. ''But we made more all day.''
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