DURHAM — Kenny Pickett and Pittsburgh built a big lead by taking the ball from Duke — only to have that lead disappear when the Panthers started giving it right back.
Given enough time for one shot at a comeback, he wasn’t going to throw it to the Blue Devils again.
Pickett threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to V’Lique Carter with 38 seconds remaining, and Pitt rallied to beat Duke 33-30 on Saturday night after wasting a 23-point lead.
“The first thing you want to do is stop the bleeding and try to get a drive,” Pickett said. “We waited until the last drive to finish the game off.”
Pickett finished 29 of 48 for 268 yards with three touchdown passes to help the Panthers (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) claim a wild victory — their fifth straight in this Coastal Division series — after the teams combined for 10 total turnovers with each scoring TDs in the final 90 seconds.
“Just shows character, our guys going on the road to get a victory,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.
Pitt led 26-3 with less than 3 minutes left in the third quarter, only to have the Blue Devils turn three straight turnovers into touchdowns and then take a 30-26 lead on Quentin Harris’ 44-yard touchdown pass to Deon Jackson with 1:30 remaining.
Pickett needed just four plays to put the Panthers back in front. He found Carter over the middle and the Pitt running back got past defensive back Marquis Waters with a spin move on his way to the end zone.
“It was just time to step up,” Pickett said. “I was pretty (ticked) off at myself for the interception. I take a lot of pride in not turning it over. … That drive, I just really wanted to be on point and accurate and stayed poised and didn’t let the moment get too big. Just went out and did it.”
Patrick Jones II then sacked Harris on the third play of Duke’s next drive, jarring the ball loose, and Phil Campbell III recovered it with 22 seconds to play.
Harris finished 18 of 43 for 165 yards with two rushing touchdowns for the Blue Devils (3-2, 1-1). But he had five of Duke’s six turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble during a four-play span of the first quarter, plus a third-quarter fumble in addition to the game-sealer.
Pickett threw TDs covering 19 yards to Taysir Mack and 4 yards to Nakia Griffin-Stewart for the Panthers, and Paris Ford returned one of his two interceptions 26 yards for a touchdown before he was ejected for targeting.
Pittsburgh: Trying to avoid their second 0-2 start to ACC play in three years, the Panthers wound up facing the right opponent. They’ve beaten Duke in shootouts (54-45 last year), low-scoring games (24-17 in 2017), blowouts (56-14 in 2016) and mostly close games (for the fifth time in seven meetings, the final margin was 10 or fewer points). Now maybe the reigning Coastal Division champions can think about getting on another late-season roll — none of their final six opponents have a record better than 3-2.
Duke: This one is going to sting the Blue Devils, who were on a roll after a 35-point rout at Virginia Tech eight nights earlier. Ultimately, they’ll rue the onslaught of turnovers that put them in that deep hole to begin with.
“They showed a bunch of heart,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “We did not perform efficiently on offense. What we can’t do out of this is hang our head. We’re going to learn a lot from this game.”
Duke entered having allowed one sack through four games — and none in its last three — while the Panthers were tied for second nationally with 24 sacks. Pitt sacked Harris three times, most notably on the Blue Devils’ final offensive snap.
Duke appeared to have tied it at 26 on the two-point conversion that followed Harris’ second touchdown run. When it appeared the quarterback’s forward progress was stopped, line judge Peter Beratta initially raced down the line, signaling that the try was no good. But there was no whistle blown, so the players played on — with center Jack Wohlabaugh pushing Harris into the end zone to prompt an official to raise his hands into the air. After a conference, referee Tra Blake announced that because an inadvertent signal was given, by rule, the conversion must be re-attempted. On the second try, Harris was stuffed well short of the goal line.
Up and Down
Ford became the first Pitt player with multiple interceptions in a game since 2013. He’s also the first Panther with a pick-six since Dane Jackson had one in the wild 76-61 victory over Syracuse in 2016. His second half was much worse: He muffed a third-quarter punt that led to the touchdown that started Duke’s comeback, then was ejected for targeting for his hit on Scott Bracey with 2:43 remaining.
Pittsburgh: Has a week off before visiting Syracuse on Oct. 18.
Duke: Plays host to Georgia Tech on Saturday.