Defense wins second scrimmage at Heinz Field

Pitt scrimmaged for the second time this spring in very Pittsburgh-esque conditions at Heinz Field, where the defense notched another victory over the offense.

The city of Pittsburgh woke up to weather more appropriate for a morning in December, not April, with snow-dusted roads and temperatures in the 30s. It was quite the Pittsburgh day, no doubt, but Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was unsure if his team should still bus from the South Side to Heinz Field for the second scrimmage of the spring. 

Narduzzi consulted the Panthers' leadership council on whether to brave the elements or stay at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex and scrimmage in the indoor facility. The players' resounding decision came with little hesitation. 

"Most of our guys, really all of them, said ‘coach, we need to go into our stadium,'" Narduzzi said. "We had a great day out in Heinz Field, another opportunity to play the game where it’s going to be played next week."

Narduzzi said the defense won the scrimmage by a 32-30 margin, and noted Saturday's conditions might mirror those when Pitt plays its final game of the regular season Nov. 26 at home against Syracuse. The coaching staff hopes Pitt will be able to win more than just a football game on that day. 

"Playing for an ACC Championship is really the mindset we went into today with," Narduzzi said. "Our kids had a blast, they got off the bus saying 'coach, great decision to go to Heinz Field.'"

The defense's victory was reflected in the stat sheet released by the school, as no offensive player posted big numbers. The longest rush of the day was a 12-yard scramble by quarterback Nathan Peterman, who completed 6 of 10 passes for 129 yards but was intercepted during a two-minute situation near the end of the scrimmage.

Peterman connected with running back Qadree Ollison for a 47-yard pass, which marked the longest play of the day. Adam Bertke completed all three of his passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, caught by tight end DeAndre Schifino from seven yards out. 

Ollison carried six times for 31 yards and two touchdowns out of the backfield, according to the team's stats. Darrin Hall rushed six times for 12 yards while Rachid Ibrahim gained 19 yards on five carries.

Freshman Chawntez Moss said he took carries with the first team offense Saturday, and he rushed for 20 yards on seven carries according to stats released by the school Saturday afternoon. 

Even though Moss is yet to play an actual game at Heinz Field, the mid-year enrollee still understood the importance of playing on Pitt's true home grass. 

"The offense comes in with a different mindset of driving the ball," Moss said. "It’s full contact, no quick whistles. For a running back it’s better because they actually have to bring us down."

Redshirt freshman safety Jay Stocker led the defense with six tackles, while recently-transitioned linebacker Elijah Zeise finished with four. Walk-on defensive tackle Calvin Hamilton also made four tackles. 

Linebackers Matt Galambos, Saleem Brightwell and Jim Medure each tallied a sack while ends Ejuan Price and Dewayne Hendrix combined for another takedown of the quarterback. The defense also compiled 13 tackles for loss. 

Shakir Soto, who the staff moved from end to tackle, played with the first-team defense Saturday as the unit earned the blue jerseys for the second time this spring. While the offense learns a new system under offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Soto says a year of knowledge helps the defense perform well alongside a willingness for each player to do his "one-eleventh."

"It's easier that we know the defense more now," Soto said. "We're playing together instead of as individuals, we're playing for each other so that helps a lot."

-- Pat Narduzzi announced 1976 Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett and Washington Redskins quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh will serve as the honorary coaches for next week's Blue-Gold Spring Game. Dorsett and Cavanaugh were key components of the Pitt's 1977 national championship team and were immortalized on the 1977 "Pitt Is It" cover of Sports Illustrated. 

“Our entire program is thrilled that Tony and Matt will be with us for the spring game,” Narduzzi said in a release. "These men helped set the standard at Pitt. Our players and coaches walk past their images every day in our practice facility—including their Sports Illustrated cover celebrating the national title. They are Pitt legends and we are honored to have them back."

-- Noticeably absent from the stat sheet was receiver Jester Weah, who is playing with the first-team offense at receiver. Narduzzi said Weah played in Saturday's scrimmage, but that there "was some good defense" on him. The offense as a whole struggled Saturday, especially in the passing game, as the windy, wet and cold conditions weren't particularly conducive to a productive aerial attack. Quadree Henderson, the other prohibitive starter this spring, caught just one pass for three yards.

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