The Pittsburgh Panthers had about as much of a roller coaster season in 2022 as one could imagine. It was only right that the final game of the season in a bowl most Pitt fans wanted to avoid would deliver all of the rollercoaster emotions one could feel. The Panthers ended up coming away with a thrilling 37-35 victory over a ranked UCLA Bruins team. It was a true team effort and next man up mentality that showed the heart of the program. It was a statement victory that showed that even the odds against them, the Panthers can still compete and win. It showed glimpses of the possibilities of next season for players that will be ready to step up in larger roles.
Pitt started the ball on offense with Nick Patti under center and it unfortunately started with a delay of game. After a short loss on a quick throw, Patti burst through the middle of the defense for 42 yards to put Pitt in UCLA territory. The Panthers from there continued a methodical drive to get into the Bruin’s red zone. The drive ended up stalling out and Pitt had to settle for a field goal. The Bruins from there got right to work against a Pitt defense that was missing plenty of key pieces. Dorian Thompson Robinson carved up Pitt going 3 of 4 passing for 71 yards which was set up nicely by a deep 51-yard completion to Kam Brown. A touchdown and unsportsmanlike conduct after Thompson-Robinson head-butted a Pitt defender saw the Bruins up 7-3.
Rodney Hammond was a savior on Pitt’s second drive of the day. On 4th and inches, Hammond picked up a fumbled snap and pushed forward for a first down. From there Hammond got back-to-back runs and got the ball to the UCLA 36 behind an offensive line that was playing well. Hammond left the game with an injury a couple of plays later and the offense again stalled out. Ben Sauls was able to make a long 49-yard field goal to bring Pitt within one to end the first quarter 7-6.
With the lack of a pass rush, the Bruins again were able to connect a deep pass to Titus Mokiao-Atimalala for 49 yards down to the Pitt 4. Dorian Thompson Robinson from there able to punch it in on 3rd and goal from the one to give the Bruins a 14-6 lead. The Panthers seemed to not trust their offense and after a quick offensive possession, UCLA got rolling again on offense. This time the Panthers were able to respond. After getting into the Panther’s red zone, Thompson Robinson was intercepted by Tyler Wiltz to finally put a stop to the rolling Bruins passing attack.
After playing a conservative game for most of the first half, the Panthers finally took their shot. Nick Patti hit Bub Means for a deep pass to get into UCLA territory. Not long after Bub Means would be rewarded. Nick Patti with the pocket collapsing was able to step up and throw a strike to Means in the end zone. After securing the two-point conversion the Panthers were able to knot it up at 14 halfway through the second. It only took 3 minutes for UCLA to respond, Hallett got beat to the inside by Mokiao-Atimalala and the Bruins took a 21-14 lead. That score would hold through halftime where UCLA would lead Pitt 21-14 at the break.
UCLA got the ball in the second half and again started driving the ball down the field. The Panthers stood tall when needed the most and again came away with an interception in the red zone. The offense stalled but the Punter was able to set a Sun Bowl and Pitt record 85-yard punt that should have been a roughing call. It took until 9:50 in the third, but the Panthers were able to force UCLA into their first punt of the game after a stop on third down. After a shanked punt and a strong run from Rodney Hammond, Nick Patti would make a crucial mistake. Trying to throw above a blitz from the secondary, Patti sailed a pass high right into the UCLA defensive back who made a house call from there to extend the Bruin’s lead to 28-14.
The Panthers facing an uphill battle still leaned on Hammond and the run blocking from the offensive line to help power them back into the game. A Kamari Ramsey pass interference gave the Panthers a first and goal on the 10. a quick strike to Mumpfield set up a one-yard touchdown run from Rodney Hammond to bring the Panthers back to within one score. After another Pitt stop, the Panthers had a golden opportunity to even the game up. The 3rd quarter ended with a 4th a 6 on the Pitt 48 with the Panthers down 21-28.
The defense who was gashed for most of the day stepped up again at a crucial time. After a Pitt punt, Kamara was able to step up and come away with the third interception for the Panthers on the day to put Pitt right in the red zone. The Panthers needed to make the most of this opportunity to swing the momentum to favor of Pitt. Rodney Hammond delivered again for the Panthers and was able to punch in a seven-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 28. After a fumble on the kick return by Jadyn Marshall recovered by Tamarion Crumpley, all the momentum was on the side of the Panthers. After getting first and goal, the Panther’s drive didn’t get any further but Pitt was still able to take a 31-28 lead.
Dorian Thompson Robinson didn’t come out for the ensuing drive being forced from the game with a back injury. UCLA couldn’t move the ball at all on that drive and MJ Devonshire was able to start the Panther’s offense in UCLA territory with the chance to make a statement. In a crucial 4th and 6 with all the pressure of the game on the line, Nick Patti delivered a pass to Mumpfield to get the Panthers all the way down to the 5. With the Panthers set to go for it on another four down, an unfortunate false start held the Panthers to a field goal to extend the lead to 34-28.
Ethan Garbers again came out for his second drive with UCLA’s hopes on the line. Again the Panther’s defense stepped up when it mattered the most. On a 3rd and 6th, the Panthers got the sack to force the 4th and 9. Kamara got pressure on the quarterback and was able to hit Garbers on the release to force the incompletion and turnover on downs.
From there it was all about playing Pitt football to wrap up the win. With three timeouts remaining for the Bruins the Panthers needed to run the football to end the game. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite the way they envisioned. A fumble that was recovered by Pitt led to a turnover on downs and gave the Bruins a bit of life. After breaking a big run the Pitt defense was now on their heels to keep UCLA out of the end zone. Somehow after a timeout, Pitt only had 10 men on the field and was forced to burn their final timeout with 50 seconds to go and the Bruins at the Pitt 21.
Garbers was able to get himself composed and delivered a strike right through the Pitt blitz to set the Bruins up with a touchdown run to steal the lead 35-34 with 34 seconds to go. All eyes would be on Patti and the offense to see how they could respond with no timeouts left.
Nick Patti was ready for his moment and would deliver when it mattered the most. Patti was able to hit two beautiful passes and ran for the first down to give the Panthers a chance at the win. Saul was a bright spot for the Panthers all season and it was only right that when it mattered it came down to him. Sauls was able to deliver the game-winning field goal in an electric final minute to give Pitt a 37-35 lead and eventual win to get the Panthers their Sun Bowl victory. It was the largest comeback win in Panther’s bowl history.
Nick Patti went 20/41 for 224 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. Patti also rushed 10 times for 73 yards.
Rodney Hammond Jr had 24 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Bub Means had four catches for 84 yards and one touchdown.
Konata Mumpfield had seven catches for 78 yards.
Bangally Kamara, Javon McIntyre, M.J. Devonshire, and Tylar Wiltz all came away with interceptions.
Ben Sauls went 5/5 on field goals for the day, none more important then the one in the final seconds to lift the team to victory.
It has been a fun season to cover here at Cardiac Hill and it’s only right that this final game went down in cardiac cats fashion. Stay tuned in to Cardiac Hill for your Pitt sports news and final takeaways and coverage from the 2022 season.