PITTSBURGH — A once seemingly insurmountable four-touchdown lead gone against resilient Marshall on Saturday night, Pittsburgh could have played it safe and tried to hold on.
Not this time.
Up by just a field goal and facing third down near midfield, Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman lobbed a deep ball to Jester Weah down the sideline. The junior wide receiver pulled it in over a defender and raced to the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown with 1:04 remaining and the Panthers pulled away late for a 43-27 win.
“I loved it when they called the play,” Weah said. “I knew I had the ability to make the play. I just had to go out there and just do it.”
And help Pitt (3-2) avoid another late meltdown. Two weeks after giving up the go ahead touchdown with 2:18 to play in a loss at Oklahoma State and seven days after a 13-point fourth-quarter lead turned into a last-second loss at North Carolina, the Panthers appeared in trouble again when Marshall’s Keion Davis scored on a 1-yard run with 4:01 to play to pull the Thundering Herd (1-3) within 30-27.
After falling to the Tar Heels, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said his team couldn’t afford to become predictable in late-game situations. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was listening. Peterman hit Scott Orndoff on third down to extend the drive before Peterman’s second touchdown of the game let the Panthers exhale.
“The best thing is we made plays when we needed to at the end,” Narduzzi said.
Peterman finished with a season-high 280 yards passing and two scores. Weah caught seven passes for 176 yards and freshman Chawntez Moss ran for 97 yards. Pitt outgained the Thundering Herd 532-344.
Still, it wasn’t exactly easy.
Marshall quarterback Chase Litton returned after missing a loss to Louisville last week and threw for 240 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Michael Clark caught four passes for 147 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown as part of Marshall’s methodical rally, one that hardly seemed possible after an opening 30 minutes in which Pitt did whatever it wanted.
Pitt held a moment of silence before the national anthem in honor of golfer Arnold Palmer. The native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania (about an hour from Heinz Field) passed away at 87 last week.
The Panthers also saluted Dr. Stanley Marks following the first quarter. Marks served as Pitt running back James Conner’s oncologist while the 2014 ACC Player of the Year underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma discovered last Thanksgiving. Conner, who ran for 39 yards and a touchdown, ran in to give Marks a hug and Narduzzi jogged onto the field to follow suit.
Pitt entered the game with the 127th-ranked pass defense in the nation, next-to-last in the FBS. While Litton and Clark heated up in the second half, the Panthers got in the final word. Cornerback Avonte Maddox – picked on repeatedly by opponents over the last three weeks – returned a Litton pass 33 yards for a score on the game’s final play.
“Avonte Maddox needed that,” Narduzzi said.
Marshall: Litton appears to be just fine and may have one of Conference USA’s better wide receivers in Clark. The 6-foot-7 sophomore will be a matchup nightmare down the road.
Pitt: The kids are starting to deliver. Narduzzi gave considerable playing time to a handful of freshman, including Moss and freshman wide receivers Tre Tipton and Maurice Ffrench, with promising results. The trio combined for 156 yards of total offense and a pair of touchdowns. “That’s what we expect,” Tipton said. “
Marshall: Opens Conference USA play on the road at North Texas next Saturday. The Thundering Herd beat the Mean Green 30-13 last year.
Pitt: Gets back into ACC action when it hosts Georgia Tech next Saturday. The Panthers edged the Yellow Jackets 31-28 in 2015 on Chris Blewitt’s 56-yard field goal with 1:11 to go.