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FINAL: Pitt 27, Eastern Michigan 3

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Pitt was victorious in its season opener Saturday night, but lost its starting quarterback to another thumb injury in the process.

Junior Bill Stull completed 14 of 20 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown in his debut as the starter, but injured the thumb on his right (throwing) hand in the third quarter.

Even so, the Panthers cruised to a 27-3 victory over Eastern Michigan Saturday night before 36,183 at Heinz Field, its 10th in the last 11 season openers.

Pitt (1-0) outgained Eastern Michigan, 332-145, in total yards. The Panthers are now 25-2 against Mid-American Conference opponents, including 8-0 in season openers.

Stull injured the same thumb that had required stitches when he smashed it off a teammate’s helmet Aug. 10 in training camp. Stull left the game after fumbling a pitch intended for LaRod Stephens-Howling. Stull was taken for X-rays and returned to the sidelines, but not the game.

Stull was replaced by redshirt freshman Kevan Smith, who was 2 of 4 for 18 yards passing and led a pair of drives that ended with field goals.

The game also marked the debut of heralded freshman tailback LeSean McCoy, who entered on Pitt’s third offensive series and rushed for a game-high 68 yards on 10 carries. Junior LaRod Stephens-Howling started the game and added 67 yards on 16 carries for Pitt.

Eastern Michigan (0-1) took advantage of a personal-foul penalty against Pitt cornerback Kennard Cox to take a 3-0 lead on a 27-yard field goal by Sean Dutcher with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter.

Pitt answered when junior quarterback Bill Stull connected on a 41-yard pass to Marcel Pestano and a 19-yard pass to Darrell Strong to set up Shane Brooks’ 1-yard scoring run for a 7-3 advantage with 1:26 left in the first quarter.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Ricky Gary intercepted a tipped Andy Schmitt pass to give the Panthers the ball at Eastern Michigan’s 35. Five plays later, Stull drilled a 21-yard scoring pass to Oderick Turner for a 14-3 lead with 14:05 left in the first half.

Pitt used an 11-play, 60-yard scoring drive to take a 21-3 lead with 9:11 remaining in the third quarter. A pass interference penalty gave the Panthers the ball at the 21, and an 8-yard pass to tight end John Pelusi a first-and-goal at the 10. Brooks scored on another 1-yard run.

In the fourth quarter, Pitt added a pair of Conor Lee field goals, a 28-yarder with 7:09 remaining for a 24-3 lead and a 35-yarder with 2:20 left to make it 27-3.

Pitt’s next game is against Division I-AA Grambling State at 12 p.m. next Saturday at Heinz Field.

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