I was very prepared in the second half last night to throw down Kevin Weatherspoon's 56-yard punt return as the turning point of the game. He electrified the Panthers' bench and was a key reason for Pitt's 28-10 lead early in the second half. Unfortunately, due to a number of penalties, twists and turns, and Pitt's inability to defend the middle of the field, the turning point came much later in the fourth quarter.
Let's not mince words here. Last night's officiating was, in a word, awful. At times, the officials really didn't know what they were calling, had to huddle several times, threw flags from way out of position, and made a ridiculous amount of questionable (at best) calls. When basketball season rolls around, we will begin to hear the phrase, "let them play" a lot. Last night would have been fitting for that particular saying that basketball fans are so fond of when they want the officials to let the players be a little physical.
The teams combined last night for 24 penalties for 221 yards. Several were of the questionable variety. Pitt did its fair share with 10 flags for 112 yards, but a call on Old Dominion put the Panthers in position to deliver the knockout blow to the Monarchs in the beginning of the 4th quarter.
With Pitt reeling and clinging to a 28-24 lead after 14 straight ODU points, the Panthers were set up with third down and five at the Monarchs 42-yard line. Quarterback Tom Savage threw incomplete and it looked like Old Dominion would have a chance to take the lead, but Terrell Reid was called for roughing the passer and gave Pitt new life that they quickly capitalized with a Savage five-yard run to extend their lead to 11. It proved to be the final score of the game and provided the final of 35-24.
If you look at the replay, Savage does get rid of the football and then is shoved to the ground, so in the letter of the law, an argument can be made that it was correct. I think if you asked the Panthers, they would point to a number of defensive penalties that were made (and a holding call that negated a big Isaac Bennett touchdown run) and say things may have just evened out. Understandably, Old Dominion was livid with the call. But as Pitt fans will tell you from last year's Notre Dame game: there is nothing you can do once the call is made.
Pitt will head to Annapolis next week with a 4-2 record and the knowledge that they have a lot of work to do between now and the meeting with the Naval Academy next week.