Pitt survives rain, lightning and Syracuse in a 44-37 OT victory
Pitt’s fight song cut through the chaos that erupted in the locker room after a 44-37 overtime victory against Syracuse on Saturday.
Players and coaches hugged each other. There were even a couple of guys shouting, “I love you, man.”
“Everyone was geeked,” wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes said.
The scene was everything one would expect from a team that trailed three times — once by two touchdowns — but fought back to win and break a two-game losing streak in front of 37,100 at Heinz Field.
Then, someone approached defensive tackle Amir Watts and kissed him. “On the cheek,” he said, without shame.
Looking up, Watts wasn’t especially surprised when he saw it was coach Pat Narduzzi.
“We love each other. We’re a family in there,” Watts said.
The victory might not have saved Pitt’s season — six games remain and Pitt (3-3, 2-1 ACC) needs to win at least three more to do that — but it certainly made Sunday’s film session and preparations for the trip to Notre Dame next Saturday more tolerable.
“They needed that one, and they deserved that one,” Narduzzi said.
It was a victory born out of a willingness to stick to the running game, with Qadree Ollison (192 yards and a touchdown) and Darrin Hall (107 and two) becoming the first two Pitt backs in five years to reach 100 in the same game.
Hall scored on 7- and 3-yard runs, taking a direct snap in wildcat formation both times. He barely inched the last one over the goal line for the decisive score in overtime.
Then, backup nickel back Therran Coleman wrestled a pass from Syracuse wide receiver Nykeim Johnson in the end zone, even though he said both of them caught the pass from Eric Dungey.
How did Coleman, 6-foot, 200 pounds, come down with it?
“He was too little,” Coleman said of the 5-8, 167-pound Johnson.
Narduzzi was in awe of Coleman, who played high school football about 10 minutes from Heinz Field at Brashear.
“A guy who maybe played 15 or 20 snaps ends up being the game winner,” Narduzzi said.
Before Syracuse’s overtime possession, Narduzzi said, “I looked right at Therran and said ‘Fundamentals, eye control, lock your guy down,’ and, by God, there you go.”
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was sacked three times by Syracuse’s fierce pass rush, threw only two passes for no yards after the third quarter, a key piece of strategy that had as much to do with the victory as anything.
“I wasn’t going to drop back and throw the ball against that front four, that fearsome foursome over there,” Narduzzi said.
“I wanted our running backs to win it for us. I wanted our offensive line to win it for us. I wasn’t going to put it in our hands of just letting those guys scream up the field and smacking us in the mouth.
“We’re going to do what they’re giving us. I don’t even know if they gave us the run today, but we willed the run.”
From start to finish, it took a team effort to drop Syracuse to 4-2, 1-2 in the ACC.
At the postgame news conference, kicker Alex Kessman proudly stood on the podium, flanked by holder Jake Scarton and long snapper Cal Adomitis. Kessman kicked three field goals, the next one more impressive than the last. He hit from 54 and 55 yards in the second quarter, setting a record for the longest field goal in Heinz Field history (NFL or college). Then, with 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter, he was true from 45 to send the game into overtime, 37-37.
“I can’t do my job without him,” Kessman said of Scarton. “He and Cal believe in me the most.”
Kessman kicked the two longest field goals in steady rain before the game was stopped for 67 minutes at the outset of the second half by the threat of lightning.
Narduzzi liked everything about the game, even how his team reacted during the break.
“We talked a lot of football,” he said. “It wasn’t like lay down and take a nap.”
But what most impressed him was how his team reacted to adversity during the game and earlier in the week while trying to put their season back together.
“Those guys, they fought and fought and fought,” he said. “We’re down 14 points to start off, and I’m sure everybody is going, ‘Here, we go again.’ But our guys continued to believe and that talks about character.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.