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No. 18 Pitt clinches ACC Coastal with 48-38 win over Virginia

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Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison connected for four scores, leading Pitt to its second ACC Coastal title in four seasons

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Pitt and Virginia met at Heinz Field on Saturday with an opportunity to settle the fight for the ACC Coastal. A shootout between two of the top quarterbacks in the nation ensued, and once the dust had settled, the Panthers had come out on top by a score of 48-38.

The Cavaliers won the toss and opted to field their offense first. Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong made his return to the field after missing a game with a rib injury, and Pitt defensive lineman Tyler Bentley welcomed him back with a sack on his first dropback of the day. Two plays later, the Panthers appeared to have a three-and-out with a pass breakup on third down, but instead, Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis was ejected for targeting after making helmet-to-helmet contact with Virginia receiver Keytaon Thompson.

On the 10th play of the drive, Armstrong would exploit Dennis’ absence with another pass to Thompson. This time, with Brandon George playing in place of Dennis, Thompson would be left uncovered in the end zone, and as a result, Armstrong and Thompson connected for a three-yard touchdown to secure an early 7-0 advantage for the Cavaliers.

The Panthers would see their first drive of the day fizzle out, but their second featured a 23-yard rush by Pitt running back Vincent Davis and three consecutive catches of 12 or more yards from Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett to Pitt pass-catchers Jared Wayne, Gavin Bartholomew and Jordan Addison. The last of those would leave the Panthers on the edge of the red zone, and three plays later, Pickett would link up with Addison for an 11-yard score to knot the game at seven points apiece.

Pitt’s defense would step up after the score, forcing Virginia off the field after four plays. Pitt defensive lineman Calijah Kancey would cap off that effort with a drive-killing sack of Armstrong that pushed the Cavaliers back two yards and forced a Jacob Finn punt. And with the team clicking in all phases of the game, Pickett and the Pitt offense took advantage of the stop by driving downfield and finishing off a 75-yard trek with an 18-yard strike that found Addison in the end zone. The touchdown, which came on 4th-and-4, would make it 14-7.

Virginia would respond with a 75-yard scoring drive of its own, with Armstrong connecting with his receivers for gains of 15 yards or more on three occasions and Virginia running back Mike Hollins capping off the drive with a two-yard run to tie the score at 14-14. However, that advantage would be short-lived as Pitt running back and return man Israel Abanikanda took the ensuing kickoff to the house, traversing 98 yards to put the Panthers up 21-14.

The Cavaliers would struggle on the following drive, and once again, the Panthers would come up with a drive-ending sack, as Pitt defensive end John Morgan took down Armstrong on third down to force another punt. Addison would return that punt 39 yards to set his team up on the Virginia 38-yard line, and although the Panthers reached the red zone, they were forced to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Sam Scarton to make it 24-14.

Armstrong would take matters into his own hands on the next drive, completing eight consecutive passes to get Virginia into the Pitt end zone. That drive would be finished off with a seven-yard strike to Virginia tight end Jelani Woods to narrow Pitt’s lead to three. And with Pickett and Armstrong then exchanging interceptions on long-shot passes, the 24-14 scoreline would remain intact at halftime.

At the start of the second half, Pickett would cough up the ball a second time, throwing a pick into the arms of Virginia safety Joey Blount. Blount would return the ball 33 yards, but the Cavaliers would be held to a field goal by the Panthers on the next drive despite excellent field position. Still, that would tie the game at 24-24 two minutes into the half.

The Pitt defense would respond with two sacks to back Virginia up to its eight-yard line and force a punt. That punt would be shanked by Finn, setting Pitt up with a short field. The Panthers would take advantage, but once again, they would have to convert on fourth down to do so. This time, Pickett dropped back and found Addison pulling away from Virginia defensive back Coen King, and with the ball hitting him in stride, he was able to reel it in for a 34-yard score to make it 31-24.

Three minutes later, the Cavaliers would answer, as they finished off a 75-yard scoring drive with an eight-yard run by Thompson into the end zone to even the score at 31-31. Pitt would respond with a field goal on the next drive to pull ahead by three points. Things took a turn for the worse on the team’s next possession, as Pickett went down with an injury, prompting Nick Patti to step in for a few plays. However, Pickett would return to finish off the drive, and with the ball on the one-yard line, Pitt running back Rodney Hammond would punch it in to put Pitt up 41-31.

Virginia would try valiantly to keep the game in reach, as Armstrong led the Cavaliers into the end zone in just two plays on the next drive. The first was a 36-yard pass to Virginia receiver Dontayvion Wicks, and that was followed by a 39-yard touchdown strike to Virginia receiver Ra’Shaun Henry that made it 41-38, with the Panthers up three. However, that would be the Cavaliers’ last trip to the end zone.

Regaining possession with three minutes left, Pitt would resolve to run out the clock, handing the ball off to Hammond four consecutive times. But that eventually brought up a third down and a tough decision to make, and Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple dialed up a pass to Addison. Pickett would throw that pass short, but Addison would come back, rip the ball out of the hands of Virginia cornerback Darrius Bratton and take it 62 yards for his fourth touchdown reception of the game. That would make it 48-38, Pitt, and with Virginia unable to respond, that would be the final.

All told, Pickett finished with 340 yards and four touchdowns, and Addison led the receiving corps with 202 yards and four touchdowns of his own. Meanwhile, Davis was the team's top rusher, as he hit the century mark for the second time in his career, finishing with 100 yards on 12 carries. Pickett was outdone by Armstrong in terms of yardage, as he threw for 487 on the day, but the Virginia signal-caller fell one score short of Pickett.

With the win, Pitt clinched its second ACC Coastal title in four seasons, with its last coming in 2018. The team also improved to 9-2 on the season, which is the best record posted by a Pitt team since Dave Wannstedt led the Panthers to a 10-3 mark in 2009. Pitt will look to improve on its record next Saturday, when it heads up to New York to take on Syracuse in its regular-season finale.