It was a wild ride at Acrisure Stadium and despite the offense and special team’s best effort to give the game back, the Pitt defense ensured the team came away with their 7th victory of the season on senior day.
The Pittsburgh Panthers forced a quick three and out on the first Duke series of the game and then were finally on the good side of a poor special teams play. The Panthers came away with three points on the ensuing possession after failing to capitalize on the good field position. A Ben Sauls 47-yarder gave Pitt the 3-0 lead.
Poor special teams were the continued theme of the day for both teams. Duke was able to block Pitt’s first punt attempt of the game which set Duke up with good field position inside Pitt territory. From there a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jalon Calhoun gave the Blue Devils a 7-3 lead in the first.
In the special teams gift that kept on giving, Calhoun touched the following Pitt punt that set up the Panthers inside the Duke 10. It only took Israel Abanikanda one play to turn it into a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead.
After trading three and outs a few times, Pitt was able to extend the lead on a Ben Sauls 51-yard field goal to provide the Panthers with a 13-7 lead. Following the field goal that’s when the offensive magic started to happen for both teams.
Duke was able to put together an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a Riley Leonard touchdown run at the 1 to give Duke a 14-13 lead. All attention turned to Kedon Slovis and the struggling offense to see what they could do with three minutes to play in the half.
The Pitt offense was actually ready to respond. Kedon Slovis put together a good drive where he completed 5 passes for 71 yards capped off by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jared Wayne to give the Panthers a 20-14 lead.
Any hope that the offense would translate to the second half with that momentum was unfortunately unanswered. On the first drive of the second half, Slovis threw an interception to give the Blue Devils the ball back and end a drive that was in Duke territory.
The defense bailed out the offense with a quick three-and-out but unfortunately, the offense ran it right back with another interception. This one is about a bad an interception as you will see to give Duke the ball right back in Pitt territory. The defense again stepped up to force a turnover on downs to bail out the Panthers.
With the offense struggling and unable to put up points of their own in the second half the defense decided to pick up the slack. Brandon Hill gave the Panthers a scoop and score in the start of the 4th quarter from a Jordan Waters fumble to give the Panthers a 28-14 lead.
It didn’t take long for Duke to respond and leave fans with that here we go again feeling. Jordan Moore, who torched the Panthers all day long, hauled in a 49-yard touchdown pass after the Panthers blew the coverage to pull the Blue Devils within 8 after Duke failed the two-point conversion.
In the theme of the day, the Panther’s offense got nothing going with another three and out. After forcing a duke turnover on downs, the Panthers actually went backward for negative 15 yards and a botched punt attempt gave the Blue Devils the ball on the 22. The Panther’s defense almost kept the Blue Devils out of the end zone, but Leonard was able to hit Jaylen Coleman for a touchdown on 4th and 19 to bring Duke within two.
The defense again though made the play when it mattered. SirVocea Dennis blew up the Philly special attempt on the two-point conversion to hold on to the lead. Erick Hallett from there recovered the onside kick for Pitt to hold on to the win.
It wasn’t pretty much like it hasn’t been all season long. A stagnant offense outside of Israel Abanikanda who again had a 100-yard game, costly penalties, and horrendous special teams plays once again did everything imaginable to keep Duke in the game. Once again, the defense saved the day and helped the Panthers to a 28-26 victory in the home finale. Pittsburgh will now travel to Miami to close out the regular season.