Pitt hadn’t forced a fumble all season, but the Panthers’ defense capitalized on three fourth-quarter turnovers to stun No. 23 Cincinnati, 24-17, this afternoon in the River City Rivalry.
The Panthers gave coach Dave Wannstedt, confined to the press box following surgery this week on his knee and Achilles tendon, his first victory over a top-25 opponent before a homecoming crowd of 33,423 at Heinz Field.
Pitt stayed perfect in seven games against Cincinnati, which fell to 6-2 overall, 1-2 in the Big East Conference. Pitt (3-4, 1-1) snapped a four-game losing streak and moves into a second-place tie in the Big East.
LeSean McCoy led the Panthers with 137 yards on 25 carries, while LaRod Stephens-Howling had 100 yards on 13 carries. They became Pitt’s first duo to rush for 100 or more yards in the same game since Nov. 5, 1988, when Curvin Richards had 202 yards and Darnell Dickerson 108 in a 20-10 victory over Rutgers.
Pitt linebacker Shane Murray forced a Butler Benton fumble that was recovered by cornerback Kennard Cox at Pitt’s 39, and Stephens-Howling finished a 10-play, 61-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring run to give the Panthers their first lead, 22-17. Stephens-Howling ran six times for 42 yards on the drive.
Pat Bostick fired a two-point conversion pass to Oderick Turner in the upper right corner to make it 24-17 with 5:03 left, but Turner drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play for a gesture to the student section.
But Pitt cornerback Aaron Berry intercepted a Ben Mauk pass at Pitt’s 16, and McCoy ran for 8 yards on a third-and-3 with 2:32 remaining to seal the victory.
Pitt forced its first fumble of the season at 13:08 of the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Tommie Duhart hit Dominick Goodman and the ball was recovered by safety Eric Thatcher at the Cincinnati 22.
Pitt managed only 2 yards in three plays, and settled for a 37-yard Conor Lee field goal with 11:10 remaining to cut it to 17-16. It was Lee’s third field goal, following a 25-yarder to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 17-13 with 8:01 remaining in the third quarter and added a 41-yarder in the first quarter.
The Panthers used a 22-yard run by McCoy and a 34-yard catch by T.J. Porter to get inside Cincinnati’s 10, but a Chris Vangas holding penalty on second-and-goal at the 5.
The Bearcats missed an opportunity to extend their lead when Jake Rogers missed a 26-yard field goal as the first half expired with the Bearcats leading, 17-10.
Cincinnati could have built on that margin after a driving 68 yards on eight plays, but Rogers’ kick sailed wide right. Pitt used a six-play, 67-yard scoring drive to tie the game on a 4-yard pass from Bostick to tight end Darrell Strong with 7:46 remaining in the half.
But the Bearcats answered with a 10-play, 79-yard drive highlighted by a 19-yard pass from Mauk to Marcus Barnett to set up Doug Jones’ 3-yard run for a 17-10 lead with 3:18 left.
In the first quarter, the Bearcats got started with a big play by Mauk, whose 55-yard run sparked a seven-play, 82-yard scoring drive capped by his 1-yard dive for a 7-0 lead with 9:27 left in the first quarter.
Pitt went for it on fourth-and-inches at its own 27, but Bostick was stopped short. Cox was called for pass interference, giving the Bearcats the ball at the 13, but the Panthers held them to a 37-yard Rogers field goal to make it 10-0.
Pitt responded with a nine-play, 60-yard drive highlighted by Stephens-Howling’s 14-yard run and Bostick’s 18-yard pass to Turner. The Panthers cut it to 10-3 on Lee’s 41-yard field goal.