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No. 25 Pitt downs Duke 54-29 in ACC Coastal tilt in Durham

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 416 yards and scored four touchdowns in the ACC Coastal Division showdown

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Duke William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 Pitt traveled to Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham on Saturday to take on ACC Coastal Division rival Duke, and although the Blue Devils looked hapless coming into the game with a 3-5 record, they traded blows with the 6-2 Panthers in the first half and put on a show for the sparse crowd. Still, Pitt would eventually pull ahead to notch a 54-29 victory.

After winning the coin toss, Pitt elected to play defense first. It appeared that decision would go down as a mistake, as Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg led his team downfield with relative ease. But a handoff to Duke running back Mataeo Durant on the one-yard line spelled disaster for the Blue Devils, as he fumbled the ball and Pitt safety Brandon Hill recovered and returned it. That led to an efficient drive by Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett capped off by a touchdown toss to Jared Wayne, which gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

Duke responded with a 46-yard field goal by Charlie Ham to make it 7-3, Pitt, on the next drive. And then things got interesting.

On the first play of Pitt’s ensuing drive, Duke defensive end R.J. Oben strip-sacked Pickett, and the fumble was recovered by Duke tackle Ja’Mion Franklin. That set up the Blue Devils on the Pitt 25, and once again, they found their way to the goal line. But this time, the Panthers defense came up with a goal-line stand, forcing a turnover on downs. However, the Pitt offense could not capitalize on the fortuitous turn of events, and Pitt running back Vincent Davis was taken down in the end zone for a safety on the first play of the next drive.

With the score at 7-5, Pitt, the Panthers were forced to punt the ball away after the safety. That gave rise to a four-play scoring drive for the Blue Devils in which Holmberg found Duke receiver Jalon Calhoun for a 32-yard touchdown to make it 12-7, Blue Devils.

Pitt and Duke would exchange fruitless drives before a 47-yard bomb from Pickett to Pitt receiver Jordan Addison put Pitt in front once more by a score of 14-12. But once again, the Panthers would not be able to enjoy their success for long, as the Blue Devils regained the lead on the ensuing kickoff, when Duke return man Jaylen Stinson took the kick back 86 yards for a touchdown to make it 19-14.

Pitt would chip away at that lead on the next drive, as Pitt kicker Sam Scarton converted a 24-yard field goal. The Pitt defense would then step up, with Pitt linebacker Cam Bright coming up with two sacks and forcing a punt. The next drive would end with a 22-yard touchdown run by Pickett to make it 24-19, Pitt. And two additional field goals by Scarton would make it 30-19 at the halftime break.

Pitt would start the second half with possession of the ball, and it capitalized with an efficient drive in which Pickett gained 23 yards on a pass to Jared Wayne and scored on a subsequent screen pass and 29-yard rumble by Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew. That score would give Pitt a 37-19 advantage.

The Duke offense took a turn for the worse after Holmberg was injured on a sack by Pitt defenders Chase Pine and David Green in the first half, bringing Riley Leonard into the game in his place. And the Blue Devils’ inability to find the end zone without Holmberg bled into the second half. But Ham would eventually hit a 31-yard field goal to make it 37-22. Shortly thereafter, Pitt tacked on another score on a pass from Pickett to Addison to double up on the Blue Devils and make it 44-22.

In the fourth quarter, Duke would finally find the end zone again, as Leonard threw the first touchdown pass of his career. That pass found Durant for a five-yard score, but it was nearly picked off by Pitt defensive lineman Chris Maloney. Instead, it bounced off his fingertips and into the hands of Durant to make it 44-29. Scarton would respond with a career-long 47-yard field goal to extend Pitt’s lead to 47-29 with just over nine minutes left to play.

On the first play of the next drive, Pitt cornerback M.J. Devonshire picked off an errant pass by Leonard, but it was negated by a questionable holding call. However, that drive would end on a pick by Pitt linebacker John Petrishen that would not be overturned. The Panthers would then work on killing the clock with a series of runs, shaving off a full five minutes by the time they reached the Duke one-yard line, from which Pitt running back Rodney Hammond would punch it in to bring the score to 54-29. That would be the final.

All told, Kenny Pickett finished with 416 yards and four total touchdowns on a 28-for-43 passing performance in the game, and he got plenty of help from Jordan Addison, who accrued 171 yards and a touchdown of his own. As a whole, Pitt improved to 7-2 on the season and 4-1 in ACC play. Meanwhile, Duke fell to 3-6 overall and 0-5 in conference. Pitt's next challenge will be a matchup with North Carolina at Heinz Field on Thursday night.