EAST HARTFORD, CONN. – Pitt clinched its first nine-win season since 1982 and clinched an invitation to the Brut Sun Bowl with a 34-10 victory over Connecticut in the Big East finale at Rentschler Field.
The victory gives No. 23 Pitt (9-3, 5-2) a share of second place in the Big East, its most wins in league play since 2002 and ’03. The Panthers will play in the Sun Bowl Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas, against an opponent from the Pac-10 Conference, likely Oregon, Oregon State or California.
Pitt had a season-high five interceptions, including two by linebacker Greg Williams, who scored on a 20-yard return of a Zach Frazer pick with 6:46 remaining to give the Panthers a 24-point lead. It was the most interceptions since Pitt had five interceptions against Ohio in 2002.
The NCAA’s top rusher and top scorer turned a sleeper into a showstopper in the third quarter, as Connecticut’s Donald Brown matched Pitt’s LeSean McCoy touchdown run for touchdown run early in the third quarter.
But the most pivotal plays came by Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, who threw a 61-yard scoring pass to receiver Derek Kinder and a 28-yarder to tight end Nate Byham for a 27-10 lead over Connecticut after three quarters of their Big East Conference finale today at Rentschler Field.
Pitt broke a 3-3 halftime tie when McCoy followed a block by right guard John Malecki and sprinted 47 yards up the middle for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 10-3 lead with 9:52 left in the third.
Williams intercepted a Tyler Lorenzen pass and returned it 41 yards to the Connecticut 7. Three plays later, Conor Lee kicked a 21-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead with 6:24 left in the quarter.
It was the second field goal of the game for Lee, who extended his single-season school record to 20 and his career record to 50.
But Brown responded with a 57-yard run, stiff-arming safeties Eric Thatcher and Dom DeCicco along the way to cut the Huskies deficit to 13-10 with 4:29 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Stull hit Kinder for a touchdown with 4:11 left in the quarter.
Pitt took a 3-0 lead after Michael Toerper blocked a Desi Cullen punt at the Connecticut 7 at 13:13 of the second quarter. It was the 10th blocked kick of the season for the Panthers, extending their single-season school record.
The Panthers settled for a 21-yard field goal by Lee, who broke the school single-season mark set by Carson Long in 1976 and since tied by Josh Cummings (2004) and Lee (’07).
Connecticut answered with an 11-play, 43-yard drive capped by David Teggart’s 45-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3 with 5:30 remaining in the half.