Pitt’s special teams were a problem just a few weeks ago when the Panthers faced Penn State at Heinz Field, as botched holds led to missed kicks and an unwillingness of the coaching staff to settle for three in situations where that seemed like the only reasonable plan of action.
However, matters have improved since that fateful evening, and kicker Alex Kessman has become a reliable option for Pitt. That much was made evident on Saturday, when Kessman came up with three vital kicks to keep the Panthers alive against the Syracuse Orange, allowing the team to ultimately hold on for a 44-37 win in a pivotal conference matchup.
Kessman’s first kick came with 12:26 left in the second quarter and the Panthers locked in a 14-14 tie with the Orange. Despite kicking from 54 yards out in a stadium that often gets the best of professional kickers, Kessman booted it through, giving Pitt a 17-14 lead. The 54-yarder tied the record for longest kick in Heinz Field set by Old Dominion’s Jarod Brown in 2013.
The Pitt kicker wasn’t done, though, as he would be called upon less than six minutes later, when the Panthers offense once again stalled short of the red zone. This time, Kessman was tasked with converting from 55 yards out. He would convert, gaining sole possession of the record for longest kick at Heinz Field and furnishing Pitt with a more substantial 20-14 lead.
To the surprise of most, the Panthers continued to chug along in the second half, adding 17 points after a 20-point first half. Kessman was instrumental in that effort, as he emerged again late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 37 and force overtime. Pitt running back Darrin Hall eventually found the end zone before an interception by Therran Coleman clinched the game.
All told, Kessman accounted for 14 points and zero misses in a hotly contested ACC matchup for Pitt, and his contributions were vital to the team improving to 3-3 on the season and 2-1 in conference. Kessman and the Panthers will face a tougher test next week, though, as they will play No. 5 Notre Dame on the road. Pitt lost the last meeting between the teams 42-30 in 2015.