by Mike Potter
And regardless of the outcome on a very cloudy day, the opponent is making a little history in Durham for the second time.
Pittsburgh (1-1, 0-1 ACC), which last played the Blue Devils in 1976, is making its first football visit to the Triangle as a member of the ACC. Duke is 2-1 and 0-1.
And it was the Panthers who served as the opponents for the very first game at then-Duke Outdoor Stadium, winning 52-7 on Oct. 5, 1929.
Duke gets even more points than that winning score today and still comes up on the short end, fighting back from a couple of huge deficits before falling short 58-55. It’s the second highest score in ACC history after Georgia Tech’s 68-50 win at UNC last season.
Pitt more than doubles the lead at 4:11 on a 27-yard pass from Tom Savage to Tyler Boyd two plays after K’Waun Williams picks off a Brandon Connette pass at the 27. Blewitt converts.
Duke responds with 1:43 left in the period. Max McCaffrey stretches high to grab Connette’s bullet from 16 yards out to finish a seven-play, 78-yard drive. Ross Martin kicks and it’s 13-7.
But the Panthers strike back quickly. Just 74 seconds later Savage hits Devin Street in stride for a 67-yard scoring pass. Blewitt converts and it’s 20-7 with 29 seconds left in the quarter.
And the barrage continues at 14:33 of the second, as Savage finds Street behind the defense again for a 69-yard connection and Blewitt adds the kick.
Duke strikes back with a bomb of its own with 12:24 left in the half, as Connette connects with Jamison Crowder down the sidelines for 62 yards and Martin adds the boot to make it 27-14. It’s Crowder’s school-record sixth career TD reception of over 50 yards.
Blewitt makes it 30-14 on a 24-yard field goal at 9:25, ending a nine-play, 74-yard march.
Back comes Duke, going 75 yards in eight plays with Crowder going around left end from seven yards out. Martin converts to make it 30-21 at 6:12.
Crowder comes up with football’s answer to a cycle or a hat trick, returning a punt 82 yards down the right sideline to pay dirt at 3:08. Martin’s kick makes it 30-28.
But Pitt scores again in the closing seconds, with Savage finding Boyd from 14 yards out to finish an eight-play, 65-yard march. Blewitt’s kick makes it 37-28 at halftime.
And the Panthers keep it up after halftime, with Savage hitting Street from 21 yards out to end a seven-play, 79-yard march. Blewitt converts at 11:06.
The lead goes to 51-28 with 3:18 left in the quarter on a 17-yard toss from Savage to Scott Orndoff with Blewitt converting.
But Duke answers with a 75-yard connection from Connette to Brandon Braxton, with Martin adding the kick at 3:05.
Connette adds another TD from a yard out with 13:36 to play, but comes up short on a conversion run and it’s 51-41.
The Panthers apparently lock it up with 8:30 to go, as Anthony Gonzalez steps in front of a Connette pass and takes it 37 yards to the end zone with Blewitt adding the boot.
But Duke trims the lead again with 5:30 left on a six-yard pass from Connette to Braxton Deaver to end an eight-play, 67-yard march. Martin’s boot makes it 58-48.
The Blue Devils take advantage of a bad snap on a punt, taking over on the Pitt 30 and going all the way on three plays with Connette bulling in from four yards out. Martin’s kick makes it 58-55 at 3:43.
It’s finally decided when Savage completes a 15-yard pass to Kevin Weatherspoon on third-and-7 from the Duke 39.
Just about everybody who touches the ball seems to set a record in a game with 1,130 yards total offense.
Savage completes 22 of 32 for a career-high 424 yards and six TDs. Freshman Conner rushes 26 times for 173 yards and a TD. Freshman Boyd has eight catches for 154 yards and the three TDs, while Street catches six for 166 yards and two TDs.
Connette completes 21 of 32 passes for 323 yards and four TDs with four interceptions, adding 101 yards rushing with two TDs on 15 carries. Crowder catches seven passes for 141 yards and a TD, rushes twice for 29 and another TD and finishes with the three TDs and 279 all-purpose rushing yards.
They said it …
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: “It was a pretty bizarre football game, with a lot of different things that occurred. The first thing that’s got to come out of my mouth is the incredible energy and effort and resiliency that the staff and the players displayed. There was never a moment that you thought the team was ready to shut down. Coming off a tough loss last week, we didn’t start well, but there were a lot of questions answered in that regard.”
Pitt coach Paul Chryst: “We certainly appreciate the guys’ effort in getting the win. As you come on the road and compete like heck, the whole purpose of the game is to try to win. … I liked the fact there was a whole lot of adversity on both sides and guys just kept playing and found a way to win the game.”
Crowder: “When I have deep routes, I just always want to run. A lot of times, guys will look back for the ball maybe 10 yards down field and the ball isn’t ready to be thrown yet. I just want to run as far as possible looking straight ahead and look up in the air and try to find the ball. I was able to do that (on the TD) even though I was a little bit late finding the ball.”
Connette: What we take out of it is we’ve got to reduce the errors in turning over the ball. If we do that, I don’t think the game is as close. I think we could have had a much better chance of winning the game if we had just controlled the ball. No matter what happens, win or lose, there are things you’ve got to do better. It’s just about becoming more consistent on an every-play basis.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke can be resilient and score a lot of points, but that the defense needs to get better to defeat high-quality opponents.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Gonzalez’ interception return for the TD.
Duke: Lost 2.
Pitt: Won 2.
Pitt leads 10-8.
Pitt vs. Virginia, Sept. 28, 12:30 p.m.
Duke vs. Troy, Sept. 28, 3 p.m.