Another year, another upset victory by Pitt. And this year it was over No. 15 UCF.
A week ago against Penn State, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi made one of the most perplexing coaching decisions in recent memory by kicking a field goal from the 1-yard line while down seven late in the fourth quarter. This week, Pitt reached deep into the playbook to upset a team that had lost just one time in its last 29 games.
On fourth-and-two from the UCF 3-yard line, the Panthers pulled out the “Pitt Special,” an homage to the famous play the Philadelphia Eagles used in the Super Bowl a few years back. For Pitt, it resulted in the game-winning touchdown.
In this instance, wideout Aaron Mathews received the toss on the end around and hit quarterback Kenny Pickett for the tying score. Alex Kessman, who missed two field goals earlier, knocked through the extra point to give the Panthers a 35-34 lead with 56 seconds remaining.
UCF’s high-powered offense had one more chance, but the Pitt defense did not allow the Knights to gain a yard, sealing the dramatic victory.
Pitt jumped out to 21-0 lead, but UCF stormed back
Early on, UCF looked overwhelmed by the speed and aggressiveness of the Pitt defense. Everything was going Pitt’s way. By midway through the second quarter, the Panthers were out to a 21-0 lead and it didn’t seem like their momentum was going to stop anytime soon.
Until it did. A fumble from Pitt running back A.J. Davis’ gave UCF a short field. Three plays later, Adrian Killins Jr. was in the end zone, cutting the Pitt lead to 21-7 with 4:49 left in the first half. That lead shrunk to 21-10 by halftime, and the game completely flipped in the third quarter.
UCF scored three straight touchdowns to open the second half, including a highlight reel 87-yard punt return touchdown by Otis Anderson. The third of those scores, a 28-yard Dillon Gabriel TD pass to Gabriel Davis, gave the Knights a 31-21 lead.
But Pitt hung around and was able to cut the UCF lead to 31-28 going into the fourth quarter. UCF tacked on a short field goal with 4:36 remaining, giving Pitt a chance to regain possession down just six, 34-28.
Pickett led the offense all the way down the field, setting the stage for that gutsy play call on fourth down.
The win marks the latest upset over a ranked team for Pitt. In 2017, Pickett led the Panthers to a 24-14 victory over No. 2 Miami. In 2016, the Panthers shocked No. 2 Clemson on the road. The program also notched ranked upsets in every year from 2011-2013 and infamously spoiled West Virginia’s chance to play for a BCS title back in 2007.
What does this mean for UCF?
Well, any hope UCF had to be included in the College Football Playoff picture goes out the window. As a Group of Five program, the Knights have no margin for error, even against a Power Five opponent. Last weekend, UCF smashed Stanford at home, but Pitt proved to be a different story.
UCF will still be one of the favorites to be the Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six bowl games for the third straight year.
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