Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Pitt ends season the same way it started, with an ACC loss at home
Pitt’s season ended the same way it started, with an ACC loss at home.
It endured a familiar storyline, as Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi settled for field goals instead of going for touchdowns.
And the Panthers fell short of an eight-win regular season when Boston College took advantage of four turnovers and rode workhorse running back AJ Dillon to a 26-19 victory Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
So much for home-field advantage for Pitt, which lost its season opener to Virginia, a midseason game to Miami and the season finale to Boston College at home. The Panthers’ only ACC victory at Heinz Field was a 34-27 overtime victory over North Carolina.
That made this a fitting finale.
1. Fumble fingers: Pitt’s defense forced a pair of three-and-outs on Boston College’s first two possessions, but the Panthers handed the ball back to the Eagles.
Freshman receiver Jared Wayne caught a pass for an 11-yard gain but fumbled from a hit by middle linebacker Vinny DePalma, and it was recovered by strong safety Nolan Borgensen at the BC 48.
Behind Dillon and David Bailey, who converted a third-and-4 at the Pitt 31, the Eagles went 40 yards in 11 plays and took a 3-0 lead on Aaron Boumerhi’s 29-yard field goal.
Then another Pitt freshman fumbled.
On the second play of their next series, running back Vincent Davis lost the handoff and the ball was recovered by defensive tackle Tanner Kafara at the Pitt 38.
The Eagles got another field goal from Boumerhi, this one a 32-yarder for a 6-0 lead with 3:00 left in the first quarter.
But Pitt was ready to answer.
2. Kick start: The Panthers turned to an unlikely target to get their offense going, as Kenny Pickett connected with tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart three times in a four-play span.
Griffin-Stewart had 14 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown entering the game, and was more known this season for his drops than his catches. But he had catches for gains of 1, 8 and 12 yards, with the third one combining with a facemask penalty for a 27-yard gain to the BC 14.
Pitt, however, didn’t fare so well in the red zone.
With a second-and-goal, receiver Aaron Mathews was called for a false start to push Pitt back to the 5. That was followed by Pickett running for no gain and having his pass intended for tight end Will Gragg broken up by Borgensen.
So Pitt settled for Alex Kessman’s 23-yard field goal to cut the score to 6-3 with 14:11 left in the first half.
That set the tone for the first half. Pitt answered a 25-yard touchdown pass from Dennis Grosel to Hunter Long with Kessman field goals of 35 and 48 yards, the latter as the second quarter expired, to cut it to 13-9 at halftime.
3. Tit for tat: When BC shanked a punt that went only 23 yards to its 39, Pitt turned to the wildcat.
Davis delivered, running 39 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers their first lead, 16-13, with 12:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Even when Pitt held onto the ball, it couldn’t hold onto the lead. Three plays later, Dillon broke loose for a 61-yard scoring run to put Boston College back on top, 20-16.
As if that wasn’t the most Pitt thing ever.
4. Pickett’s charge: The Panthers responded with an 11-play, 69-yard drive highlighted by a fourth-down conversion, as Pickett found Maurice Ffrench for 9 yards on fourth-and-4 at the BC 36.
On the next play, however, Pickett was picked off by free safety Jahmin Muse at the 7. Muse returned it 36 yards, setting up the Eagles for a 12-play, 45-yard drive capped by a 30-yard field goal by Boumerhi for a 23-16 lead.
Boumerhi added a 22-yard field goal to make it 26-16 with 9:41 left, setting up the Panthers for a familiar storyline.
5. Pick to kick: Pat Narduzzi drew criticism for his decision to kick field goals on fourth-and-goal at the 1 in losses to Penn State and Miami earlier this season.
So it was no surprise that, with a fourth-and-1 at the BC 25 and the Panthers trailing by 10, the Pitt coach elected to play it safe and take three points.
Kessman responded by converting a 43-yarder to match Boumerhi’s four field goals and cut the deficit to 26-19.
The big question wasn’t so much whether Pitt could score a touchdown in the final 5:26 but whether the Panthers could stop Boston College and get the ball back in time.
Boston College banked on Dillon, who entered the game as the nation’s third-leading rusher with 1,507 yards. The 6-foot, 250-pound junior rushed for a game-high 178 yards on 32 carries, as the Eagles handed him the ball on eight consecutive carries. Dillon delivered in a big way, running for four first downs. His biggest might have been a 4-yard gain on a third-and-3 at the BC 43.
That forced Pitt to use its final timeouts.
But Dillon kept running for first downs, and time ran out on the Panthers.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .