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No. 17 Pitt takes down Syracuse 31-14 for win No. 10

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 17 Pitt traveled to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse in a primetime matchup on Saturday, and the team came away with a 31-14 victory. The win was Pitt’s 10th of 2021, and it marked the first time since 1981 that the Panthers were able to reach a double-digit win total in the regular season.

The Orange got the ball to start the game, and they were led down the field with relative ease by Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader. The signal-caller was coming off three straight games in which he was held to 65 passing yards or fewer and zero touchdowns through the air, but he managed to accrue 59 passing yards, including a 12-yard touchdown strike to Syracuse wide receiver Courtney Jackson, on the first drive of the game.

The Panthers would be unable to answer until the second quarter, and in the interim, they would rely on their defense to shut down the Orange. Pitt linebackers Phil Campbell and John Petrishen both came up with drive-killing sacks during that stretch, keeping the game within reach for Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett and the Pitt offense, and that would eventually pay off for the Panthers.

Pitt finally got on the board with 7:25 to go in the first half, when Pickett found Pitt running back Rodney Hammond with a dump-off pass that Hammond ran in for a 15-yard score to tie the game at seven all. Then, two plays into the subsequent Syracuse drive, Shrader would complete a pass to Syracuse wide receiver Devaughn Cooper, but Pitt safety Erick Hallett then stripped the ball and Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis recovered it.

The play by Hallett and Dennis set Pitt up with a short field, and Pickett would capitalize on that opportunity. On Pitt’s sixth play after regaining possession, Pickett launched a 25-yard bomb into the end zone that found Pitt receiver Jordan Addison for Pitt’s second touchdown of the day. That score not only made it 14-7, but it also gave Pickett 38 passing touchdowns for the 2021 season, making him the program’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns in a single season.

In the second half, the Panthers would build on their early success, as they got the ball first and cashed in with a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Pickett capped that off with a four-yard touchdown pass to Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew to make it 21-7. Less than six minutes later, Pitt would hit pay dirt once again, this time on a five-yard pass from Pickett to Addison that concluded an impressive drive.

With a 21-point hole to dig out of, the Orange would awaken late in the third quarter, as something finally clicked for Shrader. The Orange signal-caller completed five passes on six attempts in his team’s second drive of the half, and that included four passes of 10 yards or more and a 25-yarder. Shrader finished off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jackson to cut Pitt’s lead to 28-14.

After a pick by Pickett on the following drive, Pitt would come up with a three-and-out and then set to work on killing the clock. Not only would the Panthers succeed in doing so, but they also came up with a decent drive in the process. That drive ended with a 26-yard field goal by Pitt kicker Sam Scarton, which would give the Panthers a 31-14 advantage late in the fourth quarter. And with Syracuse unable to respond and Pitt content to run out the clock, that would be the final score.

With the win, Pitt improved to 10-2 on the season and dropped Syracuse to 5-7, denying the Orange bowl eligibility for the third straight year. As for Pitt, with the Coastal Division clinched, it will advance to the ACC title game, where it will face Atlantic Division champion Wake Forest next Saturday.