Aaron Matthews

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Pitt’s fourth straight win has Panthers gearing up for ACC Coastal run

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Predicting what is going to happen in the ACC Coastal Division is hardly an easy task. The division has had six different champions reach the ACC Championship Game in the last six years. This year, Pitt (5-2, 2-1 ACC) is hoping to become the second team in the division to play in back-to-back ACC Championship Games, joining Virginia Tech (2007, 2008). On Friday night, a 27-20 victory at Syracuse (3-4, 0-3 ACC) helped keep that goal alive.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 232 yards and two touchdowns, with six of those receptions being hauled in by Maurice Ffrench (92 yards, 1 TD). The Panthers held a 24-6 lead at halftime and had to hold off a rally by Syracuse. Among the highlights for Pitt was a lateral back to Pickett, who connected deep Aaron Matthews early in the game. The play had to be reviewed as an illegal double forward pass penalty was originally flagged by the ACC official. Replay correctly overturned the call and awarded Pitt the go-ahead touchdown. The Panthers never trailed the rest of the night.

Since losing their road game at Penn State in non-conference play in Week 3, Pitt has rattled off four consecutive wins, beginning with an upset of UCF. One more non-conference win against Delaware led into back-to-back ACC wins against Duke and Syracuse. The victory against Duke was key because the Blue Devils are a division opponent. And the quick decline of Syracuse this season made for an easier road game than perhaps was to be expected before the season started (Syracuse won 10 games last year and is now in jeopardy of missing out on bowl eligibility).

Pitt now gets ready for a key stretch of division games that could ultimately determine if the Panthers can get a second crack at an ACC title (likely against Clemson). Next up will be Miami, next week in Pittsburgh. Pitt upset the Hurricanes in western Pennsylvania two seasons ago, dealing a near-fatal blow to Miami’s College Football Playoff hopes (Clemson put the Hurricanes to rest in the ACC Championship Game). If the Panthers can get the win against Miami, the remaining schedule has some favorable draws with road games against struggling Georgia Tech (1-5) and Virginia Tech (4-2, but a far from encouraging 4-2) and home games against UNC and Boston College (both schools are 3-3 coming into the week).

Pitt would lose out on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia but does own the tiebreaker with Duke. Pitt fans will be watching to see what happens between Duek and Virginia Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville. A Duke win would, essentially, put Pitt in the driver’s seat.

We may still get some ACC Coastal Chaos, but Pitt has played themselves into a bit of a decent spot within the division race.

Pitt Special! Pitt stuns No. 15 UCF in thriller to snap UCF regular-season win streak

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After 27 consecutive wins in the regular season, the UCF Knights have taken a loss. No. 15 UCF (3-1) was upset on the road by Pitt (2-2, 0-1 ACC) on Saturday afternoon in Heinz Field, 35-34. Pitt blew a 21-0 lead before coming back to win the game with a trick play in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

With the game on the line in the final minute of the fourth quarter, Pitt rolled out a play reminiscent of the Philly Special (Pat Narduzzi attempted to rebrand the play as Pitt Special after the game) from Super Bowl 52. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett caught a pass from Aaron Matthews for a three-yard go-ahead touchdown.

Making the situation more imposing for UCF was the fact head coach Josh Heupel burned UCF’s final timeout on defense just before the touchdown was scored. That left UCF in a tough spot with under a minute to play. Starting at their 25-yard line with 56 seconds to play and no timeouts at their disposal, time ran out on the Knights as the Pitt defense was swarming. Gabriel was sacked twice in three plays to lock the gate son a win for the Panthers.

UCF fell behind with an uncharacteristically ugly start that saw them fall behind 21-0, and every aspect of the team was to blame. The offense was unable to get going. The defense could not make a big stop. And the special teams unit had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Panthers. But UCF seized some control and got things back in their favor with a couple of scores before halftime, and a 21-7 burst out of halftime turned the tables in UCF’s favor.

Dillon Gabriel overcame his own rough start to the game to throw for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdown passes came in the third quarter, the first to Gabriel Davis from the 10-yard line to bring UCF within four and the second to Davis for a 28-yard score to push UCF’s lead to 10.

But UCF couldn’t put the game away for good. UCF missed on a fourth-down conversion attempt in the fourth quarter and settled for a field goal at the end of a 10-play drive with 4:36 remaining in the game. Pitt then went on their game-winning drive over the course of 12 plays. The drive was extended by a UCF offside penalty on a 4th & 5 with 2:11 left to play. After getting the free first down, Pickett completed a 19-yard pass to Taysir Mack to get the ball down to the UCF 11-yard line. A few plays later set the stage for the memorable touchdown by the Panthers.

For the first time in three seasons, UCF must rebound from a regular-season loss. The good news is they get a good rebound opportunity next week at home against UConn. It will be all conference play the rest of the year for UCF, and their hopes of playing in the New Years Six ar not at all dashed base don this one loss. With over two months of football still to be played, UCF still is firmly in the mix for a third-straight NY6 appearance (although fans of Boise State are feeling good at this particular moment). But the talk about UCF in the College Football Playoff, for now, can be set aside.

As for Pitt, the Panthers play one more non-conference matchup next week against Delaware, a top 25 FCS program coming off a nailbiter against Penn earlier today. After a battle with the Blue Hens, Pitt will remain in ACC play for the rest of the season, beginning with a road trip to Duke. And against Duke, anything can happen if recent history is any indication.