Behind backup QB Nick Patti, Pitt hobbles to victory against Delaware
Pat Narduzzi growled the words like a parent whose kids just let him down.
“Critical errors all over the place, 13 penalties, ridiculous,” Pitt’s coach said.
“I don’t think we came out with the emotion. We came out flat.
“Blame me for that because we have to come out revved up and ready to go every week.”
Does this sound like the rant of a winning coach? No, but that’s how Narduzzi left Heinz Field on Saturday, desperately and thankfully clutching a 17-14 victory against Delaware, an FCS team that needed three overtimes to beat Rhode Island.
Speaking of needs, Pitt needed a 100-yard drive (thanks to one of those penalties) to erase a fourth-quarter deficit and improve to 3-2 in front of an announced crowd of 44,141.
Narduzzi lamented the hard fact many college coaches face:
“Sometimes, it’s hard to get them going,” he said. “The emotion we had or didn’t have and the penalties drive me nuts.”
But the other reality is Pitt had just enough to win on a day when it almost didn’t have enough players.
“We got a character football team that found a way to win,” he said. “Some teams will find a way to lose.”
Pitt was hit hard by injuries last week, the most significant of which was quarterback Kenny Pickett, who fell on his shoulder against Central Florida and barely practiced this week. He was one of 10 regulars who were unavailable Saturday, including top running backs A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis, cornerback Jason Pinnock, linebacker Chase Pine, safety Jazzee Stocker and four others who didn’t play last week.
In stepped redshirt freshman Nick Patti, who threw a touchdown pass last week in relief of the injured Pickett. This time, he was steering the ship for four quarters.
Patti completed 23 of 37 passes with touchdowns to running back V’Lique Carter (30 yards) and wide receiver Taysir Mack (12). He also threw Pitt’s first interception since the opener.
What he did best, though, was take the ball at Pitt’s 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter, staring at a 14-10 deficit, and lean on a running game that suddenly found its feet. Todd Sibley came off the bench to rush for 106 yards and become the first Pitt running back to reach the century mark this season.
Shrugging off a 10-yard holding penalty by guard Bryce Hargrove, Patti led the winning drive. On third-and-17, he threw a 48-yard jump ball that Mack wrestled from cornerback Riah Burton at the Delaware 15-yard line. Then, he hit Mack with a pinpoint pass, leading him into an open area of the end zone for the decisive score.
That gave Pitt its winning margin with 10 minutes, 33 seconds to play. The defense, which recorded six sacks for the third time this season and only allowed touchdown drives of 21 and 41 yards, did the rest.
There was hope Pickett could play — Narduzzi didn’t make up his mind until 45 minutes before kickoff — but Patti said he prepared all week like he would start.
“I don’t think Kenny was 100 percent,” Narduzzi said. “I did warn our kids earlier in the week. I don’t care who goes. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a letdown.
“Maybe there was a letdown. Maybe everybody thought Kenny was going to play. It comes down to health. I don’t want to put anybody in harm’s way. He goes out there and tweaks it, we’ll all be kicking ourselves in the tail. I thought we could go out there with Nick Patti and win the football game. We, obviously, did. Not in a pretty manner, but we got the ‘W.’ ”
Patti wasn’t sacked, a first for a Pitt starting quarterback this season, and limited his mistakes to a couple of bad throws and an interception that set up a Delaware touchdown.
“We don’t really get in that panic mode,” he said. “We have some veteran guys, and we know how to win.”
But Patti, 19, said he didn’t panic, even when Delaware was ahead in the fourth quarter.
“Just (having) composure and confidence in yourself,” he said, explaining the root of his demeanor. “Staying consistent throughout the game was a challenge, but I tried to get better as the game went on and learn things as the game went on.”
Pitt’s hope is the use of replacement players will prepare the team for the upcoming seven-game ACC stretch that will define the season.
“I was glad Nick was able to get out there and make some plays,” Narduzzi said. “It’s going to make us that much stronger as the season goes on.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .