Pitt wins a close one, but Damar Hamlin is ready for more of the same
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – For most of Saturday, Pitt will be part of a four-way tie for first place in the ACC Coastal after its 27-20 victory against Syracuse.
That traffic jam will loosen up around supper time, however, when the Duke/Virginia winner moves into the lead, possibly in a tie with North Carolina if the Tar Heels can defeat Virginia Tech.
The Coastal is a jumbled mess, without a great team, but Pitt (5-2, 2-1) has placed itself in the middle of what should be an interesting title quest with four consecutive one-score victories. Add up the margins and it totals 14 points.
Senior safety Damar Hamlin said the close outcomes don’t bother him, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see similar margins over the final five games.
“We’re battle-tested and we’re ready for whatever,” he said. “We come into every game thinking it’s going to be a fight.”
Hamlin, actually, looked like a WWE wrestler in the second quarter when he lifted Syracuse wide receiver Nykiem Johnson into the air after a short reception and slammed him to the Carrier Dome turf. The personal foul penalty gave Syracuse a first down and 4 yards – half the distance to the goal from the Panthers 8 – on its way to nothing but a field goal.
It was one of three times Pitt didn’t allow a touchdown on four Syracuse trips into the red zone. That turned out to be one of the reasons Pitt was able to stretch its winning streak to four in a row.
“Little League football, just trying to make a play,” said Hamlin, whose indiscretion was one of Pitt’s eight penalties for a loss of 79 yards. “I’ve been doing my pushups all week. It paid off.”
Still trusting Ffrench
Wide receiver Maurice Ffrench fumbled a punt that was recovered by Syracuse’s Cameron Jordan on the Pitt 46. It led to another field goal after the Orange had first-and-goal at the 8.
Ffrench accepted blame for the fumble, Pitt’s second muffed punt in two games. Paris Ford did the same thing at Duke.
“I practice it every week to the best of my ability,” Ffrench said. “That punter (Sterling Hofrichter) is really good. He has a great hang time.
“That was just me not getting underneath the ball and having my hands spread when the ball came. It went right through my hands.”
Ffrench continued to return punts for the rest of the game.
“I went to the sideline, kept my head up, teammates kept me positive and I just knew the next couple opportunities I was going to make the catch,” he said.
Ffrench did his best work as quarterback Kenny Pickett’s favorite target, catching six passes for 92 yards. Taysir Mack added four for 34, giving the NCAA-leading duo a total of 101 receptions.
Pickett spread the catches among seven players, with Shocky Jacques-Louis getting a career-high three for 24 yards and Aaron Mathews (two for 57) catching his first career touchdown pass.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .