ATLANTA — Quarterback Nate Peterman had no doubt Pittsburgh would keep grinding out the clock late in the fourth quarter.
“Shove-it-down-their-throats drive,” he said. “It had to be that one.”
Peterman threw a career-high three touchdown passes and Chris Blewitt kicked a 56-yard field goal in the closing minutes to help the Panthers beat Georgia Tech 31-28 on Saturday.
Tyler Boyd had eight catches with two touchdowns to become Pitt’s career leading receiver, and the Panthers burned all but 1 minute, 4 seconds of the final 8:13 with a 14-play drive that ended on Blewitt’s school record-long kick.
Pitt (5-1, 3-0 ACC) is undefeated in its first three conference games for the first time since 2010.
Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4 ACC) has lost five straight, its longest single-season skid since it went 1-10 in 1994. The Jackets, who began the season as favorites to win the league’s Coastal Division, must regroup before hosting No. 11 Florida State next weekend.
“We had some real screw-ups on offense, basically when the game got tight,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “All freshmen. So it’s tough, and the way the game was going, you didn’t want to miss your turn.”
Boyd, the ACC’s leading receiver this year, began the winning drive by recovering his own fumbled punt return at the Pitt 31, but he kept the chains moving with a 5-yard catch against double coverage to convert the second of two fourth-down plays on the possession.
“Any time my name is called, I just want to help the team win,” Boyd said. “I got that out route. That was crucial.”
Peterman connected with J.P. Holtz for a 6-yard TD that put the Panthers up 28-21 late in the third, their first lead since Boyd’s 6-yard catch made it 7-0 early in the first.
Peterman, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 162 yards, faced a soft pass rush and wasn’t sacked. Georgia Tech struggled all afternoon to pressure him and cover Boyd.
“Well, right now, we are not very good on defense,” Johnson said. “Face it. Facts are facts. We are probably from 10th to 14th in every category in the league. So we’ve got to find a way to get better. And having said that, we had our chances.”
Pitt’s defense, which began the day seventh in the nation in yards allowed, gave up a staggering 337 yards in the first half, but the Panthers recovered to hold Georgia Tech’s potent rushing attack to just 112 yards rushing in the second half.
Pitt had to do without its season leading tackler, Jordan Whitehead, when the freshman safety left the game with a head injury late in the second and didn’t return.
Georgia Tech’s Marcus Marshall broke off a 58-yard touchdown run to make it 7-all in the first quarter, and quarterback Justin Thomas had runs of 51 and 45 yards to set up two other TDs.
The Panthers kept the score tied 21-all at the end of the second quarter when Shakir Soto blocked Harrison Butker’s 50-yard field-goal attempt.
Marshall, who added a 7-run TD run to make 28-all early in the fourth, had 159 yards rushing on 10 carries. Thomas had 95 yards rushing and was 6 of 15 for 106 yards passing and a touchdown.
Thomas had some big moments, but Peterman had more. Particularly after coach Pat Narduzzi called timeout before the second fourth-down play.
“We all wanted him to have faith in us because we were going to get it,” Peterman said. “Everybody on that field knew we were going to get it.”