Like many Halloween scary themes--whether they be in the form of costumes, or the traditional scary movie--it's a matter of things appearing more scary than they really are.
Saturday night, Pitt gave its fans an early Halloween scare. An early 10-0 deficit seemed like a repeat of disappointing losses in recent years. The Panthers got back in the game thanks to a strong second quarter, resulting in a 35-24 in at Heinz Field on Saturday night.
Running back Isaac Bennett led the way with the first 200-yard game of his career; 240 yards on 30 carries with three touchdown.
""We ran the ball hard," Head coach Paul Chryst said. "Our guys did pretty well up front. Isaac Bennett ran the ball well. You are always hoping you can get something going in the run game. We were hoping to be able to run the ball and keep the ball away from them and eat up clock. Our guys worked their tails off to make that happen."
Prior to the game, Pitt announced receiver Devin Street would not play, the result of a shoulder injury against Virginia Tech last week. Quarterback Tom Savage threw for just 104 yards, but he did throw for a score and run for a score, enough to get Pitt over the hump.
Old Dominion got on the board first. The Monarchs marched 70 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Heinicke to Marquel Thomas.
Pitt punted its first two times with the football. They nearly came up with a fumble, when linebacker Shane Gordon stripped the ball off Larry Pinkard. Pinkard made the catch, however Gordon dropped him for a three-yard loss on the play, stripping him of the ball in the process.
It appeared Gordon came up with the loose ball. Paul Chryst challenged the ruling. However because forward progress was attempted, the officials ruled the play was not reviewable. Even though Gordon stripped the ball before the ball carrier was down. The only time such a play is reviewable, is if it's to challenge a first down. Even then, only the spot of the ball is ruled on.
The Monarchs added to the lead after a 54-yard field goal by Jarod Brown. It marked the longest field goal in the history of Heinz Field, as Brown kicked into the open end of the stadium.
Old Dominion led 10-0 after one quarter.
But Pitt came back soundly in the second quarter, and Bennett was a big reason for that. He scored on a 25-yard touchdown run, making it a 10-7 game, barely three minutes in to the second frame. Pitt wasn't doing anything extremely special. It was all about establishing the run, and getting the short passing game going. It was this drive, where it started coming together, thanks large in part to an 11-yard reception by J.P. Holtz, and a pair of short grabs from Tyler Boyd.
At that time, the Pitt defense responded. After holding Old Dominion to four plays of four consecutive losses, the Monarchs punted to Kevin Weatherspoon, who fielded the ball at his own 32 yard-line. He returned the ball all the way to the Old Dominion 12 yard-line, tripping himself up at the end of the play.
Weatherspoon's return was the longest since Darrelle Revis' 73-yarder for a touchdown in 2006 against West Virginia.
Pitt took its first lead of the game three plays later, as Bennett took it in from 12 yards out, his second touchdown of the game.
"I think we did a great job of closing out the game like we would like," Chryst added. "Certainly we have to get better."
Old Dominion answered with another drive, getting as far as the Pitt 29 thanks to passing plays of 23 and 15. They also got a little help from some Pitt penalties. Bryan Murphy put a stop to it, coming through on a speed rush, dropping Heinecke for a loss to the Pitt 33.
Brown came on to attempt a 49-yarder, initially. A false start penalty pushed the all back five yards, making it a 54-yard attempt into the closed end of Heinz Field. Brown's try this time was short. Pitt took over at their own 37 with 2:53 left in the half.
Once again, Pitt went to the legs of Bennett. He found room up the middle, getting the ball all the way to the Old Dominion 8. He set a career-high for rushing yards, 113 to this point of the game, in the process.
Bennett took it in three plays later, scoring from 16 yards out, his third rushing touchdown of the half.
"It was fun just being out there with the team and being able to get a victory after last week's loss," Bennett said.
Old Dominion had one last chance to cut the deficit. Aaron Donald was penalized for a dead ball foul. The 15-yarder didn't convert a first down for the Monarchs, but did put them in range for another 54-yard attempt by Brown. His kick was short. Pitt took a 21-10 lead into halftime.
Pitt took control at the start of the second half, marching 77 yards in nine plays. It was Bennett taking control, running the ball six times for 53 yards. The seventh time, he ran it in for a 19-yard touchdown run. It was called back due to a hold. Though Bennett couldn't capitalize on his own individual success on this drive, it did set up a 21-yard touchdown pass from Savage to tight end Manasseh Garner.
Old Dominion was able to answer thanks to some key penalties by Pitt, and some miscues in the Pitt secondary. Even after an Old Dominion holding penalty, Heinicke found Blair Roberts for a short gain over the middle. Roberts picked his way through a couple of holes, on his way to a 47-yard touchdown reception. It was the Monarchs' first score since the first quarter. They now trailed Pitt 28-17 with just 6:17 left in the third quarter.
Brown, the kicker, made another play. This time, on special teams. Not only did he have a successful onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, he recovered it himself. Unfortunately he was penalized for a 'head slap'--the second time someone had been flagged for this in the game.
With the 15-yard penalty, Old Dominion started at its own 31. Still, they only needed five yards thanks to a personal foul on Pitt's Aaron Donald, and a 24-yard run for Heinike. Two plays after his 24-yarder got the Monarchs to the Pitt 17, Antonio Vaughan ran it in from 17 yards out.
Pitt owned the second quarter, and looked like it was going to continue that in the third. Old Dominion stayed alive with its quick strike offense.
Pitt was able to get some more breathing room, thanks to a five-yard scramble from Tom Savage. The Panthers went back up 35-24, with a little over 13 minutes remaining.
Both teams combined for 24 penalties, for 221 yards (Pitt 10-102, ODU 14-119). No one committed a turnover until Ray Vinopal picked off Heinicke with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter.
"Our coaches have been putting us in good positions all week," Vinopal said. "Coach [Matt] House told us that dig route is coming so play aggressive and the corner will protect me."