For a moment, Darrius Bratton had his hands on the ball and appeared to be in the midst of making the play of the game to save Virginia’s season. Bratton ran under Kenny Pickett’s third-down pass late in the fourth quarter and nearly intercepted it, but Jordan Addison ripped the ball away and took it 62 yards for a touchdown, capping off an outstanding performance and sealing the victory for Pittsburgh.
Addison and Pickett combined for four touchdowns, as Pittsburgh defeated Virginia 48-38 on Saturday evening at Heinz Field. With the win, the Panthers clinched the ACC Coastal Championship and will return to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2018.
In addition to being a battle for first place in the ACC Coastal division, this game was also billed as a duel between two of the top quarterbacks in the country in Kenny Pickett and Brennan Armstrong. All the way up until just minutes before kickoff, however, it was still uncertain if Armstrong would play in this game after the junior quarterback missed Virginia’s last game against Notre Dame with a rib injury he suffered against BYU on October 30th.
Armstrong was a game-time decision and, even if he did play, there was still no guarantee that he would be anywhere close to 100% and most likely very far from the Brennan Armstrong that led the NCAA in passing before his injury.
The Virginia quarterback immediately quelled any concerns about his health, as he led Virginia on a 10-play, 70-yard drive, capped off by a three-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to Keytaon Thompson to give the Cavaliers the lead.
Armstrong was brilliant in his return, completing 36 of 49 passing attempts for 487 yards and three touchdowns. Armstrong also broke Matt Schaub’s UVA record for passing touchdowns in a single season. Schaub’s mark was 27 touchdown passes and Armstrong now has 30 touchdowns on the season.
Keytaon Thompson was Armstrong’s top target, hauling in 11 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. Thompson also had three carries for 17 yards and a touchdown. Dontayvion Wicks was not much far behind him with 10 receptions for 133 yards.
After UVA took the early 7-0 lead, the Virginia defense did its job as Mike Green sacked Kenny Pickett to give the ball back to the Cavalier offense. The Hoos could not take advantage, however, and punted right back to Pittsburgh, who put together back-to-back touchdown drives to take the lead.
A 23-yard run by Vincent Davis got the Panthers rolling on their next drive, which ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Pickett to Jordan Addison on the first play of the second quarter. After another UVA punt, Pittsburgh scored again as Kenny Pickett eluded a safety blitz by Joey Blount on fourth down, before firing on the run to a wide open Jordan Addison in the back of the end zone to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead.
Virginia responded well on its next drive, as an Armstrong completion to Dontayvion Wicks set up a two-yard touchdown run by Mike Hollins to tie the game at 14.
The tied score did not last for long, as Israel Abanikanda returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to immediately retake the lead for Pittsburgh. After a Virginia three-and-out, Pittsburgh drove down the field looking to score again, but a Joey Blount sack on a safety blitz helped the UVA defense hold the Panthers to just a field goal.
Brennan Armstrong threw to Malachi Fields for completions of 11 and 21 yards to move the Cavaliers into Pittsburgh territory on the ensuing possession. A few plays later, Armstrong found Jelani Woods in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to bring the Hoos back within three points with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
Both Pickett and Armstrong threw low-percentage deep balls that turned into interceptions in the final minutes and Pittsburgh took a 24-21 lead into halftime.
Kenny Pickett, who was otherwise fantastic in the final home game of his collegiate career, threw his second pick of the game on the second play of the third quarter, as Joey Blount intercepted his pass and returned it to the Pittsburgh 12-yard line. Virginia failed to cash in the opportunity with a touchdown, however, and settled for a 30-yard field goal from Brendan Farrell to tie the game.
The teams traded three-and-outs and then Pittsburgh scored another touchdown on a fourth down conversion, as Kenny Pickett once again threw to the ultra-reliable Jordan Addison to put the Panthers back on top, 31-24.
Pickett completed 26 of 41 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns, each of which went to Jordan Addison. Addison was unstoppable, recording 14 receptions for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
Brennan Armstrong and the UVA offense responded again with another scoring drive. Armstrong completed passes to Ra’Shaun Henry and Dontayvion Wicks to set up an eight-yard touchdown run by Keytaon Thompson, his second touchdown of the game to even the score at 31-31.
The Cavaliers played well enough to keep pace with the Panthers, but a few key mistakes prevented the Hoos from taking the lead and, eventually, cost them the game.
Pittsburgh kicked a field goal and took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Panthers looked to make it a two-possession game as they drove to the Virginia 30-yard line, but the UVA defense appeared to have held them to a field goal on multiple occasions. First, Nick Jackson tackled Kenny Pickett short of the marker on second down and Pickett appeared to hurt his ankle. After a Pitt timeout, Pickett remained on the field for third down. UVA came on a blitz and West Weeks batted Pickett's pass down and Pickett was slow to get up again. Backup quarterback Nick Patti came in to replace the injured Pickett and Pittsburgh decided to go for it on fourth-and-one. Surprisingly, Pitt opted to pass the ball and Patti, who was pressured by another UVA blitz, overthrew his target Jared Wayne down the field, but Coen King unnecessarily grabbed Wayne and was flagged for pass interference.
The costly penalty gave Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, West Weeks made another great play and batted down Pickett’s pass again on third down to seemingly hold Pitt to a field goal. However, Virginia committed an unforgivable penalty, jumping offsides on the field goal to give Pitt another first down. A nine-yard completion from Pickett to Addison set up a touchdown run for Rodney Hammond Jr. to give the Panthers a 41-31 lead.
Despite the horrendous miscues that led to Pitt taking a double-digit lead, that deficit lasted for only 25 seconds, as Brennan Armstrong needed only two throws to get the Hoos to the end zone. Armstrong threw a jump ball down the left sideline to Dontayvion Wicks, who made an incredible catch for a 36-yard gain. Then, Armstrong went to the other sideline and hit Ra’Shaun Henry in stride for a 39-yard touchdown. In the blink of an eye, the Cavaliers were back within three points.
Nick Jackson sacked Kenny Pickett to force Pittsburgh to punt and UVA got the ball back with six and a half minutes remaining, looking to tie the game or take the lead. A 22-yard completion to Keytaon Thompson got the ball moving and it seemed like the Cavaliers were well on their way to another scoring drive. However, another costly error derailed the drive, as center Olusegun Oluwatimi snapped the ball when Brennan Armstrong was not ready for it, resulting in a loss of 14 yards. UVA was unable to convert on third-and-21 and, rather than going for it on fourth-and-13 from the UVA 40-yard line, Bronco Mendenhall opted to punt the ball back to Pittsburgh.
With only 3:47 left on the clock, the Cavalier defense needed to come up with a stop to give Armstrong and the Virginia offense one more chance to tie or win the game.
On a third down play from the Pittsburgh 38-yard line, it seemed like Darrius Bratton was going to deliver that much-needed stop and much, much more as he briefly had his hands on Pickett’s third-down pass. However, Jordan Addison had one more spectacular play in him, taking the ball away and taking it to the house for a 62-yard touchdown to put the game on ice.
Virginia got the ball back down ten with a little over two minutes remaining. Armstrong drove the Cavaliers to the Pittsburgh 14-yard line before turning the ball over on downs to end the game.
With the loss, Virginia’s quest to defend its 2019 ACC Coastal crown comes to an end and the Cavaliers turn their focus to the most important game of the year. The Hoos host Virginia Tech in the Commonwealth Clash next Saturday at 3:45pm on the ACC Network.