Romeus made sure he stayed involved against Syracuse Saturday afternoon as well, as Pittsburgh scored 18 fourth-quarter points to pull out a 34-24 win.
Mid-way through the fourth quarter with the Panthers leading by three, Romeus busted into the backfield and forced Orange quarterback Cameron Dantley to fumble. Jabaal Sheard covered the ball, and tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling ran three yards for the game's final touchdown to bury Syracuse. The Orange appeared to be primed for an upset through three quarters.
"I saw the lane clear,'' Romeus said. "Our defense knows we need to step it up at the end of the game.''
Romeus and the defensive line made the play at the end of the game, but Pitt kicker Conor Lee was making plays with his right foot all day. Lee tied the school record for field goals in a game, nailing kicks from 25, 40, 43 and 44 yards. And he started early.
Lee began his afternoon with a 40-yard kick that gave Pitt the lead, but Syracuse's Mike Holmes broke through the left side of the Pitt special teams on the ensuing kickoff to give the Orange the lead with a 90-yard return.
"Our special teams coach did a bad job early in the game,'' Pitt's Dave Wannstedt, who doubles as the Panthers special teams coordinator, said.
The Syracuse attack didn't let it end there.
On its next possession, Dantley found receiver Donte Davis in single-coverage with a step on Pitt safety Elijah Fields. Dantley delivered the ball to Davis for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Pitt fought back after that, driving down the field and giving Lee the 43-yard attempt that brought the score to 14-6. His last field goal gave Pitt the lead it didn't surrender.
"I was just trying to keep the team in (the game),'' Lee said. "I was just doing my job.''
It took a little bit of time, but the rest of the team began doing its job as well. Redshirt junior quarterback Bill Stull connected with Dorin Dickerson in the end zone to bring Pitt within one, but a Syracuse field goal with time expiring in the half gave the Orange a 17-13 advantage at halftime.
Wannstedt said his team did a good job of keeping the mood positive and realizing that the game was well within reach. Wannstedt said he talked about Friday night's game, in which Connecticut game from behind to beat Louisville.
Still, the second half didn't start the way Pitt wanted. Holmes returned the kickoff to the Syracuse 44-yard line, giving it good field position. On the fifth play of the drive, the Orange faced a third-and-two.
Dantley dropped back, faked the handoff, then tossed a bomb toward the left side of the field, where Pitt corner Aaron Berry was in one-on-one coverage with Orange frosh receiver Van Chew. Berry located the ball, but fell behind a step in coverage, opening the window for Chew, who made the diving catch for a 36-yard touchdown.
Lee hit a field goal on Pitt's first second-half possession, matching his career-high of three field goals in a game. The Panthers defense and running game took over from there.
After the Orange drove down the field, Jabaal Sheard broke through the right side of the Syracuse offensive line and took down Dantley, forcing a punt.
On the ensuing drive, Stull completed a pass to freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who ran eight yards before being taken down. Facing fourth-and-one, Wannstedt had a decision to make.
"(I) didn't even think about it,'' Wannstedt said. "We had to win the game.''
Stull took the snap and dove forward for the first down. On the next play, McCoy ran for 34 yards, taking Pitt to the Syracuse 32-yard line. Two plays later, Stephens-Howling ran 20 yards to set the Panthers up inside the 10 yard line. But Stephens-Howling wasn't done.
On the next play, he took the handoff, cut through the middle of the line, spun off a tackle and drove in for the touchdown. Wannstedt opted to go for the 2-point conversion, and Stull lofted a pass to Baldwin to tie the score. Lee hit the 25-yard field goal on Pitt's next possession to put Pitt in the lead.
"Conor was great,'' Wannstedt said. "Those points were all important.''
Romeus forced the fumble on Syracuse's next offensive possession, and Stephens-Howling took care of the rest. He finished the game with 13 carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He added two catches for 22 yards. McCoy earned his first 100-yard game of the season, rushing 28 times for 149 yards. Pitt ended the game with 241 yards on the ground.
Stull finished 17 of 29 for 166 yards and a touchdown. It was his second TD pass of the season. Wannstedt said he was happy with both the play of McCoy and Stephens-Howling, but was most happy with the result when the clock stopped.
"It was a good win for us,'' Wannstedt said. "Any time you win on the road, it's a good win.''
Pitt has a short week of practice and will face South Florida Thursday night in Tampa, so it won't have time to savor the big win.
--Mike Gladysz is the sports editor at The Pitt News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pitt 34, Syracuse 24
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