Pitt held a three-point lead at halftime, and despite building a 10-point lead after the opening drive of the second half, could not withstand another Cincinnati comeback as they fell to the Bearcats 26-23 at Heinz Field Saturday night. Both teams combined for four turnovers, with Pitt cashing in a touchdown and Cincinnati getting both of its touchdowns as a result.
Zach Collaros completed 19-of-32 passes for 214 yards with two interceptions. Not great numbers for a quarterback, but he did rush for two touchdowns. Isaiah Pead had another big game, rushing for 118 yards on 22 carries. Tino Sunseri rushed for Pitt's lone touchdown, and led the Panthers' ground attack with 70 yards on 15 carries. Devin Street set a new career-high with eight catches for 118 yards.
The Bearcats kicked off the scoring with a seven-play, 74-yard drive, which resulted in a 27-yard field goal by kicker Tony Miliano. Todd Graham talked about special teams—particular the kick coverage units—being key, those units did the job off the opening kickoff, pinning the Bearcats at their own 16 to start the game. A 53-yard run by Isaiah Pead changed that. And although quarterback Zach Collaros put too much on a couple of his throws in the end zone, the Bearcats still got the early 3-0 lead.
Pitt answered Cincinnati's opening score with a 52-yard field goal from Kevin Harper; a career long for the junior kicker, and also the longest kick by a Pitt player since David Merrick had a 54-yarder against Texas in 1994. The 52-yarder is also the longest collegiate field goal kicked at Heinz Field—eclipsing Pat McAfee's (West Virginia) 51-yarder in 2006. Despite settling for the field goal, Pitt had couple big plays—namely a 12-yard scramble by Tino Sunseri and a 19-yard run by Devin Street off a reverse. Pitt couldn't get anything going in the short-yardage situations; passing, or rushing outside of those two plays. Cincinnati's front seven was giving Pitt problems early, evidenced by the sack that forced the field goal.
The Bearcats added another field goal. Again, despite keeping the Bearcats out of the end zone for a second drive in a row, Cincinnati produced a big-play. This time, it was a 27-yard pass from Collaros to Anthony McClung. Collaros scrambled for a gain of eight yards on the third down play, but was tripped up by Todd Thomas, falling just short of the first down. Miliano kicked a 40-yarder with 7:23 left in the first quarter, as Cincinnati regained the lead at 6-3.
The teams traded punts to end the first quarter, with the Bearcats holding on to a 6-3 lead. Each team had the ball three times in the first quarter. Cincinnati started two drives inside its own 20, while Pitt started one drive inside its own 20.
Pitt started the second quarter with the ball, and although they got in the red zone, they could only muster another field goal—this time a 24-yarder from Harper. Devin Street had a nice catch to get Pitt in the red zone—a tough five-yarder, which included a Cincinnati defender draped on his back—giving him three catches for 56 yards, in addition to a 19-yard run on a reverse.
Two plays into the next series, Collaros' pass was intercepted by Todd Thomas and returned to the Cincinnati 4—a gain of 39 yards by Thomas on the return. Sunseri sneaked it in for the go-ahead score, putting the Panthers up 13-6.
Pitt almost had another big break after Myles Caragein stripped Isaiah Pead of the ball at the Pitt 30. Cincinnati had driven 71 yards in nine plays, starting this series at its own 15 yard-line. It appeared that Caragein stripped Pead of the ball, and it was recovered by LaQuentin Smith. The play was reviewed, and overturned. Cincinnati kept the ball, and scored four plays later as Collaros ran it in from seven yards out.
Pitt answered with Harper's third field goal of the half—a 42-yarder, as they went up 16-13 with 1:08 left in the half. It also marked the second 11-play drive of the half that resulted in a field goal for the Panthers.
Pitt wasted little time adding big plays in the second half. On its opening drive, Sunseri found Street again for a gain of 14. Then it was Zach Brown with a gain of 36, to get the Panthers inside the 10. Sunseri hit Hubie Graham for a 4-yard touchdown three plays later, giving Pitt a 23-13 lead.
Cincinnati responded with a three-and-out. Brandon Lindsey came up with another big play on third down. This time, he sacked Zach Collaros for a loss of 11. Pitt still led by ten, less than five minutes into the second half.
After both teams traded punts, Cincinnati made it a 23-16 game. Miliano added his third field goal of the game, following a 13-play, 68-yard drive. Cincinnati converted a 4th-and-1, and a 3rd-and-5 to get inside the Pitt 20. Collaros found Chisum for a gain of 14, to get to the Pitt 6. The Pitt defense held. Freshman LaQuentin Smith came up with a sack, and Andrew Taglianetti broke up a pass in the end zone to force the field goal. The Bearcats gained 68 yards on that drive, but got 44 on one play when Collaros found a wide-open D.J. Woods for a gain of 44, to get the Bearcats into Pitt territory.
Just as Cincinnati's turnover helped spur Pitt's first lead of the game, coming off the field goal, the Bearcats forced a turnover of their own on the next series. Tino Sunseri fumbled, and Walter Stewart pounced on the loose ball at the Pitt 27. Cincinnati scored three plays later on another short run from Collaros. He found a wide-open McClung for a gain of 21, to get the offense on the doorstep. All of a sudden, Cincinnati tied it 23-23.
The Bearcats picked up another turnover, starting over deep in Pitt territory. Camerron Cheatham recovered a batted pass, and returned it to the Pitt 26. Cincinnati couldn't convert a first down, but was able to add another field goal from Miliano—a 41-yarder, to give the Bearcats the lead again, 26-23, as the game carried into the fourth quarter.
Pitt had one last chance with just under five minutes left. Cincinnati faced a 3rd-and-9, K'Waun Williams picked off a Collaros pass, setting the Panthers up at the Cincinnati 40 with 4:44 left. Unfortunately, the Panthers couldn't capitalize. Sunseri faced a mad rush from the Cincinnati front seven, forcing an incompletion. On the fourth down play, he misfired on a pass intended for Street. Cincinnati took over at their own 36 with just under four minutes to play.
The Pitt defense held tough, as Antwuan Reed came up with a big pass breakup to force a three-and-out. On the ensuing punt, Buddy Jackson was flagged for running into the kicker. Pitt still got the ball, but had to start at its own 11. Sunseri completed a couple of quick passes to Anthony Gonzalez and Street, then was hit by a Bearcat defender. Initially, the play was called a fumble, but was overturned after a replay—which showed that Sunseri's arm did go forward, which resulted in an incomplete pass.
Pitt held on to the ball, and got the Panthers to the Cincinnati 33 yard-line—going another 34 yards on five plays. Harper attempted his fourth field goal of the day, which sailed wide right, resulting in the final 26-23 score.
Stay tuned for more post-game reaction from Heinz Field.