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PITTSBURGH (AP) – In a back-and-forth offensive battle, Pitt scored the last strike, with Kenny Pickett hitting Maurice Ffrench with five seconds left in the game to beat Duke, 54-45 on Saturday.
Pitt had leaned on its rushing offense for most of the game, but Pickett game through in crunch time, hitting Rafael Araujo-Lopes on a 17-yard pass, Tre Tipton for six yards and then an 11-yard scramble just before the game-winning pass to Ffrench. Pickett finished 8 of 18 for 150 yards and two touchdowns, with three of his eight completions and 78 of his passing yards coming on the final drive.
“Kenny Pickett, he’s a dude,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I’ll go to any extent with that guy. He’s a competitor. Some of the scrambles he had, big-time scrambles he had for first downs, to get us out of a hole, he did a great job.”
Pitt (4-4, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved to within a half-game of first place in the ACC Coastal Division, while Duke (5-3, 1-3) missed an opportunity to secure bowl eligibility and climb into contention within the division.
In a game full of offense, Pitt’s defense got an elusive stop late in the fourth quarter, with defensive tackle Amir Watts sacking Daniel Jones on a fourth-and-long to get the Panthers the ball back.
Both teams eclipsed 600 yards of total offense. Duke did most of its damage in the air, with Jones setting career highs with 396 passing yards and four touchdowns. Deon Jackson set a Duke record with 403 all-purpose yards. Pitt’s 484 rushing yards were the second-most in program history.
“It was a day of explosive plays and they ultimately made more than we did,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Hats off to Pitt, they responded. This one is going to be tough to put behind us.”
Duke did not punt until the fourth quarter, with an early turnover on downs and a Jones fumble standing as the only two stops for Pitt’s defense until the final frame.
Ffrench’s game-winner was his second touchdown. He also scored on a 50-yard catch in the second quarter.
Freshman defensive back V’Lique Carter, playing in his first game, made an impact on offense, with scores from 31 and 16 yards out. He finished with 137 yards on seven carries. Regular running back Qadree Ollison had 149 yards and a score on 18 rushes.
For Duke, backup quarterback Quentin Harris scored on a pair of short runs and slot receiver T.J. Rahming had a pair of short touchdowns.
Pitt’s win finished a hectic week in the Coastal that set up a couple of big games over the next two weeks. Pitt, Virginia (4-1) and Virginia Tech (3-1) each have one conference loss and the Panthers will play the Cavaliers and Hokies in their next two games.
Pitt visits first-place Virginia on Friday night.
Duke is at Miami Saturday.
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