PITTSBURGH (AP) — Darrin Hall ran for 111 yards and a touchdown, Quadree Henderson returned a punt for a score and Pittsburgh’s defense kept Virginia in check in a 31-14 victory over the Cavaliers on Saturday.
Ben DiNucci threw for 134 yards and 19-yard touchdown to Jester Weah as the Panthers (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept their flickering bowl hopes alive by winning their second straight.
Pitt’s defense stopped the Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2) on downs three times, the last coming with a spirited fourth-down stop at the goal line with 4:35 remaining that ended any chance of a late Virginia rally.
Kurt Benkert completed 22 of 42 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as the Cavaliers missed a chance to qualify for a bowl game for the second weekend in a row.
A week ago, Virginia was blown out at home by Boston College. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall praised his team’s response, calling it a sign of a maturity for a program trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Maybe, but the Cavaliers looked sluggish early at soggy Heinz Field as Pitt sprinted to a three-touchdown lead.
Hall put the Panthers in front with a 14-yard touchdown run up the middle midway through the first quarter. Weah made it 14-0 when he caught a short pass from DiNucci and broke two tackles on his way to the end zone. Henderson, an All-American as a returner last year, broke out of a funk with a swerving 75-yard sprint down the sideline. Henderson eluded several tackles in the process and barely stayed in bounds before lunging across the goal line. The senior now has eight career combined kick returns for a score, one off the NCAA record.
Benkert tried to keep the Cavaliers in it. He found Hasise Dubois for a 19-yard score late in the half. Qadree Ollison ripped off a 25-yard touchdown sprint with 7:15 left in the third quarter to restore a 21-point Pitt’s 21-point and the Panthers were never really threatened the rest of the way.
Virginia: The Cavaliers might want to rethink their approach to short-yardage situations if they want to end their bowl drought. The Cavaliers went a combined 7 of 22 on third and fourth down, most of the conversions coming during garbage time. The failures included getting stuffed on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 at the Pitt 28 in the first quarter and two failures from the Pitt 1 in the fourth.
Pitt: The defense really is improving. The Panthers shut down Duke in the second half last week and dominated the line of scrimmage most of the afternoon against the Cavaliers. A chance at keeping its bowl streak alive remains in play, hard to imagine three weeks ago when Pitt was at 2-5.
Virginia: Hosts Georgia Tech next Saturday.
Pitt: Off next week. Welcomes North Carolina for a Thursday night game on Nov. 9.
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