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“Pitt Special” Helps Panthers Stun No. 15 UCF Ending Knights 27-Game Regular-Season Win Streak With Video Highlights
(Photo by Paul Burdick. Check out more of Burdick’s work here)
Not this time. Using a trick play called “Pitt Special”, the Panthers stunned No. 15 UCF, 35-34, ending the Knights 27-game regular-season win streak and any hopes of playing for a national title Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Facing a fourth-and-2 at the UCF 3-yard line, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett acted like he was checking the play with his right tackle. But Pickett never went back behind center, as the direct snap came to running back Vincent Davis who then flipped it to wide receiver Aaron Matthews on an apparent reverse. Matthews, however, stopped and threw to Pickett who was falling down in the end zone for the game-tying touchdown. Alex Kessman, who missed two field goals in the game, then nailed the extra point to give Pitt the lead with 59 seconds to play.
“We’ve practiced it a lot,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “It’s called a Pitt Special, and it was special today. 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 first downs. And then, by gosh, he scores a touchdown, reception for a touchdown. So Pitt Special.”
Watch game highlights courtesy of Pitt UPMC LiveWire
The Pitt defense did the rest sacking UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel twice on the Knights (3-1) final gasp and then stopped a lateral play on the game’s final play to preserve the win. The Panthers had six sacks in the game.
“There was all kinds of pressure,” Narduzzi said. “Our D-line did a great job. Coach Partridge and those guys played relentlessly. We needed a relentless effort out of those guys, and our guys just kept coming back.”
Watch Pat Narduzzi’s postgame media conference. Courtesy of Pitt UPMC LiveWire.
For much of the second half, the game was shaping up to be another blown opportunity for the Panthers (2-2).
Pitt blew a 21-0 lead that it built midway through the second quarter giving up two touchdowns in the first 6:20 of the third quarter to turn a 21-10 halftime lead into a 24-21 deficit.
The UCF lead grew to 31-21 when Gabriel hit Gabriel Davis from 28 yards out with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
But Pitt stopped the bleeding with a five-play, 75-yard drive that was capped when backup quarterback Nick Patti, who had just replaced an injured Pickett, rolled to his left under pressure and found Dontavius Butler-Jenkins in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown to cut the deficit to three, 31-28.
The Panthers had a chance to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, but Kessman missed a 41-yard field goal.
UCF answered by driving to the Panthers 15-yard line but elected to go for it on fourth-and-2, and Greg McCrae was stopped a yard short of the first down.
The next time the Knights got in a similar situation facing a fourth-and-7 from the Pitt 11, UCF elected for the short field goal to push the lead to six with 4:36 to play.
But Pitt went on what turned out to be a 12-play, 79-yard drive to win the game.
“I went over to them, and I said, ‘Hey, there’s four minutes to go. We take the clock all the way down and we make plays,’” Narduzzi said. 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. But I just told them, ‘Hey, this is what we play for. This is what football is all about.’ Our kids stood up. Our O-line did a great job protecting Kenny, and our guys made plays.”
A couple of 2-yard touchdowns – a 2-yard run by A.J. Davis and a 2-yard pass from Pickett to Maurice Ffrench – gave Pitt a 14-0 lead 29 seconds into the second quarter before Wendell Davis returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-0 after Matthews blocked the punt.
UCF, though, took advantage of an A.J. Davis fumble at the Pitt 27 to get back in the game on an 11-yard Adrian Killins touchdown run. Dylan Barnas then hit a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half to cut the lead to 21-10 at halftime.
Gabriel then hit Davis with a 10-yard pass and Otis Anderson returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown to give UCF the lead early in the third quarter.
Pickett was 25 of 47 for 224 yards and a touchdown for Pitt with Taysir Mack catching six passes for 87 yards and Ffrench seven for 50 and the touchdown.
A.J. Davis ran for 65 yards and Pickett for 61 for the Panthers.
Gabriel was 25 of 42 passing for 338 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for UCF with Davis catching 10 passes for 151 yards and the two scores and Tre Nixon hauling in seven passes for 136 yards. But the Knights ran for just 85 yards led by Killins’ 46 on eight carries.
Pitt returns to action 12:30 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Delaware.
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