Panthers mob Hutchins after winning kick.
After leaving as many as 17 points on the field in the first half, the Pitt football team easily could have folded and lost to Connecticut in a key Big East game, but the Panthers wouldn't let that happen and battled back to win for the second straight week.
Pittsburgh trailed at halftime and actually was down by 15 late in the third quarter, but scored 18 unanswered points to beat UConn 24-21 Saturday night at Heinz Field.
The 15-point deficit was the largest the team overcame in Coach Dave Wannstedt's four-plus seasons at Pitt, as redshirt junior Dan Hutchins kicked an 18-yard field goal to win the game with no time on the clock.
"Wow, obviously, it was a great come-from-behind win for our team, and as I told our players: That part of it was outstanding,'' Wannstedt said. "I really liked how we did it. In the second half, we really came out and re-established our identity from the standpoint that we played very physical as an offensive line.
"And we started running the ball. And defensively, we stepped up. We gave up the one big play, (but) the disappointing thing is that we have not played as good as we can for a whole game. ... But our kids just gave great effort, and they did not come close to quitting. (And) they did not come unglued.''
Pitt was methodical in coming back from a 21-6 deficit late in the third. Jonathan Baldwin's 26-yard touchdown catch capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive with 12 seconds remaining in the third. And in the fourth, it was all Panthers on both sides of the ball.
A Greg Romeus sack thwarted UConn's next series, and quarterback Bill Stull took Pitt down the field 68 yards in 10 plays and 6:07. A 27-yard pass to tight end Dorin Dickerson capped the drive to get the Panthers within two. Then, Stull rolled right, looked off a covered Dickerson in the flat and fired to Cedric McGee in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion.
"It was great to get my man Ced the ball on that play,'' Stull said. "He's meant so much to this program, but he hasn't had a chance to make a lot of big plays. And that was a really big one for us. He did a great job, and our line gave me a lot of time to get down the progressions to him.''
UConn's offense didn't stand a chance after that. It was a three-and-out for the Pitt defense to give Stull and company a chance to win the game. And the Panthers' offense didn't disappoint. A 13-play, 74-yard drive last 6:14. Hutchins lined up at the 8 with one second left and drilled home the win.
Pitt has had numerous star contributors during its 5-1 start, but many who haven't been standouts turned from role players to leads. Sure, Baldwin had another big game with eight catches for 104 yards and a TD, while Stull was 21-for-31 for 268 yards and two TDs, two interceptions and a pick six.
Then, there was the dynamic duo at tailback, freshmen Dion Lewis and Raymond Graham, who combined for 211 yards to gash Connecticut and its NCAA second-ranked rushing defense. Lewis had 158 yards on 24 carries with a strong second half after dropping a sure 43-yard touchdown pass.
"I had to come back strong in the second half after that,'' Lewis said. "I couldn't let that early miscue keep me down. But our whole team's that way. We don't let things bother us. We were down for a while tonight, but we played real well in the second half. The offense and defense came through.''
And so did bit players like McGee, who entered the game with five catches and no points, but pulled in the two-point play to tie the score and also had a 14-yard run and catch on third-and-five to keep the game-winning drive alive.
Then, there's Nate Byham, who has been an incredible blocker, matched his season total with three clutch catches, including a 21-yarder. And redshirt freshman wideout Michael Shanahan, who just started playing again after recovering from a broken hand, took over for injured starter Oderick Turner and had two catches for 35 yards with a 29-yarder.
And Hutchins, who missed a couple extra points this season, was perfect on those and added three field goals with the game-winner. He was successful from 42, 18 and 19 yards to win the game as time expired.
"Late in the game, it was gut-check time for us,'' Byham said. "We had to look ourselves in the eyes and say that we have to be able to run the ball or this game is over. We had to face adversity, and we pushed on. We were tired and in pain, but we kept fighting and made enough plays to win.''
Pitt continues its Big East schedule Friday at 8 p.m. at Rutgers in an ESPN national telecast. ... The attendance was 44,893.