BY NATALIE BIGLEY
Pitt celebrated homecoming and its 225th birthday Saturday with the hopes that it could upset a 18th-ranked Louisville at Heinz Field and get its first Big East win.
Instead, the Cardinals showed that they are the real deal, defeating the Panthers 45-35 and advancing to 6-0.
The Panthers slumped to 2-4, letting the game slip away from them in the second half.
It also ended Pitt’s four-game winning streak against Louis-ville.
Heading into halftime, the Panthers were up 21-17.
But Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said he was not pleased with his team trailing behind.
This prompted him to deliver a strong message to his players in the locker room.
“I had some very choice words, but I had to get them going,” he said. “That was the only way it could happen.”
The choice words appeared to work, motivating the Cardinals to come out of the locker room and play a monster second half.
“Since I have been here, we haven’t beat Pitt home or away,” Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said.
“I don’t know if we played a complete game, but I will say this is our best second half of the season.”
Right off the bat, Bridgewater threw a pass to DeVante Parker, who ran past a Pitt defender for a 75-yard touchdown that gave Louisville a 24-21 lead.
After that, Pitt’s defense was unable to stop Bridgewater and the Cardinals’ offense.
“We’ve got to come ready to play, each and every week no matter who we play,” Pitt safety Jarred Holley said.
“Our biggest enemy right now is ourselves.”
Louisville started to pull away with the lead following a 2-yard touchdown run by Senorise Perry, who also had a 1-yard scoring run. The Cardinals quickly ran up the score to
“At any point in the game when momentum goes away you’ve got to fight to get it back your way,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.
“We didn’t do that, and that’s where, during the third quarter, you saw the separation.”
Despite the second half shift, the game’s first half looked promising for Pitt.
On the opening drive, Pitt’s Cameron Sadler scored on a
7-yard touchdown catch, his first of the season.
And in the second quarter, Pitt freshman running back Rushel Shell catapulted over defenders for a 2-yard touchdown and a 21-14 lead.
After the game, Chryst said he was proud of his Panthers, but also acknowledged that they let the game get away from them.
He said the reason was because they did not answer Louisville’s scores.
The Panthers did try to keep the momentum high during crucial game moments, for better or worse.
A few of these decisions came on bold fourth-down calls, which Chryst said were decided by circumstances of the game.
One of them occurred when Pitt led 21-14 nearing halftime.
On third down, the Panthers had a chance to keep Louisville at bay by punting.
Instead, the offense chanced it and went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Louisville 14.
The Panthers were unable to convert the down, giving the Cardinals another opportunity with just enough time left in the half.
The switch in field position resulted in a 45-yard field goal for the Cardinals and closed the gap to 21-17.
Chryst explained the decision to go for it.
“We wanted to try and get a first down,” he said. “Our defense was playing alright. More importantly, we wanted to put it on their offense.”
The Panthers also decided to go for it in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-eight.
Again, the Panthers were unable to convert, handing the ball back to Louisville on the 22.
“I felt like we could get it,” Chryst said. “I wanted to put it in the players’ hands.”
Pitt’s offense tried to rally back in the last quarter, but it was too little too late.
“Whenever their offense is scoring on our defense quick like that, the biggest thing an offense can do for their defense is to stay in a drive, give those guys a break, let them get their confidence off of us scoring,” Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri said.
“We weren’t able to do that.”
The Panthers are now 0-3 in Big East play for the first time since 2001.
Pitt next plays Buffalo at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
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