CINCINNATI (AP) – Dion Lewis ran for a career-high 261 yards and four touchdowns on a snow-covered field Saturday, leading the Pitt Panthers to a 28-10 victory over Cincinnati and at least a share of the Big East title.
The Panthers (7-5, 5-2) blew their one-game lead a week earlier, giving Connecticut a chance to claim the conference’s BCS bowl berth with a victory on Saturday night against South Florida.
For Pitt, this was about bad memories.
A steady snow buried the yard lines and reminded both teams of their matchup one year ago at Heinz Field, where the Bearcats rallied from a 31-10 deficit to a 45-44 win in the final minute.
Cincinnati got its second straight Big East title and a Sugar Bowl appearance. Pittsburgh got a heartache that hadn’t gone away.
Lewis eased it a bit. The sophomore had his second huge game against Cincinnati (4-8, 2-5), carrying 42 times. He scored three times in the first half – matching his previous career high – for a 21-10 lead that stood up in the blustery conditions.
Last year, Lewis ran for 194 yards and three touchdowns on a school-record 47 carries against Cincinnati, a highlight to his record-setting freshman season at Pitt. That showing got overshadowed by the Bearcats’ comeback.
The conditions suited him again on Saturday. And, nobody was going to stop him or top him.
Lewis scraped his cleats across the turf, clearing a spot and getting some footing, before surging for a 2-yard touchdown run that made it 7-0 late in the first quarter and got him going. He got that chance after J.K. Schaffer’s high hit on fullback Henry Hynoski extended the drive.
Cincinnati had a fumble and an interception – a season-long problem for the turnover-prone Bearcats – that led to Lewis’ first two touchdowns. Zach Collaros was hit as he threw and the ball floated to linebacker Max Gruder at the Pitt 15, ending Cincinnati’s best threat and giving Pitt a chance to get the ball to Lewis again.
He broke through the middle of the line, veered right and went 76 yards for a touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter. Lewis held his arms aloft in the corner of the end zone by the student section and was pelted with snowballs.
Students were warned to stop. The Bearcat mascot was throwing snowballs and resisted, pushing a security guard, a school spokesman said. The mascot was detained, cited for disorderly conduct and replaced by another mascot at halftime.
There was plenty of powdery ammunition – large expanses of unused, snow-covered seats in the 35,000-seat stadium. ROTC members built a snowman next to the cannon fired behind the end zone after every Bearcat score.
The cannon was cold most of the afternoon.
Lewis’ third touchdown run – a 7-yarder – helped Pittsburgh take a 21-10 lead into halftime. He ran for 164 yards in the opening half, a season high.
Pitt had three chances to put it away in the second half, but let them slip away. Mike Shanahan let a pass go through his hands for an interception at the Cincinnati 2-yard line, Dan Hutchins hit the left upright on a 38-yard field goal try, and Lewis fumbled at the Cincinnati 7-yard line with 5:48 left.
Pitt’s defense wouldn’t let Cincinnati take advantage. The Bearcats’ pass-oriented offense struggled in the snow. Collaros was 12 of 24 for 109 yards with three interceptions, giving him seven in the last two games.
Finally, Lewis ran 21 yards up the middle for his fourth touchdown with 3:15 left, essentially closing it out.
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