PITTSBURGH — Another fourth-quarter lead gone and another “what if” loss looming, Pittsburgh responded with a little bit of savvy, luck and a dash of redemption for its beleaguered defense thrown in for good measure to surge past struggling Georgia Tech.
First, Scott Orndoff kept his head while hauling in a tipped pass from Nate Peterman the tight end turned into a game-tying 74-yard touchdown with 3:50 to play. Then nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett stuffed Yellow Jackets running back Dedrick Mills on fourth down to give Pitt the ball back with 1:47 left to set up Chris Blewitt’s bank shot 31-yard field goal as time expired.
Just another heart-stopping Saturday for the Panthers.
“I think it’s just about believing and never getting down on yourself or on your team,” Orndoff said. “Just hanging in there.”
Something Pitt (4-2, 1-1 ACC) is getting used to under coach Pat Narduzzi. The outcome has hung in the balance in the final 2 minutes each of the last five weeks, including a last-second loss to North Carolina two weeks ago in which the Tar Heels converted four fourth-downs on the deciding drive.
That’s what made Jarrett and linebacker Matt Galambos’ stop so satisfying. The clock dwindling, Georgia Tech went for it on fourth-and-1 at its own 34 rather than kick it. Galombos -- who Narduzzi describes as the defense’s “computer” -- sensed a dive play was coming and changed the call right before the snap, leading Jarrett to stand up Mills short of the first down.
“I happened to guess right,” Jarrett said. “It was perfect.”
Pitt drove to the Georgia Tech 12 to set up Blewitt’s winner, which smacked off the right upright and through as time expired. It’s the second straight season Pitt topped the Yellow Jackets on a late kick by Blewitt, whose 52 career field goals are a school record.
“Called corner pocket,” Blewitt joked.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson defended the decision to go for it rather than kick it and give Pitt’s offense - which punted just once all day - another shot. Instead the Yellow Jackets (3-3) dropped their third straight overall and their sixth straight true road game dating back to 2014.
“If I to do over again at the end of the game, I probably still would have gone for it but I would have called a different play,” Johnson said. “I felt the way the game was going, I felt like we could make a half-yard and we didn’t so that’s on me. That’s my responsibility and I’ll take the blame for it.”
BIG MAN, BIG PLAY
Peterman finished 14 of 20 for 192 yards and the long score to Orndoff. The Panthers spread the ball around while running for 215 yards, including a 24-yard run by 300-pound Pitt lineman Brian O’Neill on a designed throwback lateral.
Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Canada installed the play this week specifically for O’Neill, a former tight end. He caught the ball and was surrounded by teammates while being escorted to the end zone.
“(Canada) told me don’t do anything stupid when you score a touchdown because you’re going to score a touchdown,” O’Neill said.
The Panthers wore vintage blue-and-gold jerseys in a nod to the program’s glory days of the 1970s and had Johnny Majors, the coach when Pitt won the 1976 national title, serve as honorary captain. As sharp as Pitt looked, however, Narduzzi made sure style didn’t trump substance.
“(Narduzzi) told us those yellow helmets aren’t going to make a tackle for you,” defensive end Shakir Soto said.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets were much improved following losses at home to Clemson and Miami but the defense struggled all day and yielded at the end. Johnson, however, remains upbeat even though his team’s margin for error in the Coastal Division is gone.
“I think you can see every team in our division is probably really close,” Johnson said. “Just like North Carolina beat them on the last play, they beat us on the last play.”
Pitt: The Panthers are finding plenty of depth around star running back James Conner, who was held to 60 yards and failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 14 games. Eight different Panthers were credited with at least one carry.
Georgia Tech: take a break from ACC play when they host Georgia Southern. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson led Georgia Southern to a pair of FCS titles in 1999-2000.
Pitt: Travels to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers. Each team has won on its home field in the series since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2013.