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October 6, 2012

Pitt suffers self-inflicted loss at Syracuse

SYRACUSE (NY) - The beginning of Friday night's game against Syracuse was probably a bit discouraging for the Pitt players, but nothing will compare to how it ended.

After all, the Panthers absorbed the Orange attack and staked the home team a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. But Paul Chryst's team didn't fade in the glow of the early deficit at the Carrier Dome; instead, Pitt's defense rounded into form and the offense made just enough plays to knock on the door.

But in the end, the team couldn't get out of its own way long enough to capitalize, and the Orange held on for a 14-13 victory.

"We shot ourselves in the foot," redshirt junior receiver Devin Street said after the game. "It's the same story all the time. We have to play together and we can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We're our own worst enemy right now.

"We had our opportunities to win that game."

Indeed, Pitt had several opportunities to take a lead against the Orange. Kevin Harper's missed 42-yard field goal loomed large in a one-point game, as did the humorless comedy of errors that pushed the Pitt offense out of scoring range on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter.

The focus after the game falls to that pair of fourth-quarter drives. On the first, Pitt finally found its running game and drove to the Syracuse 29 before two false start penalties, a sack, and an illegal formation flag resulted in a punt from the Pitt 47. And on Pitt's final drive of the game, the Panthers moved all the way to the Syracuse 17, only to see an intentional grounding and a sack push the Panthers out of field goal range.

"It's tough whenever you lose, especially when you feel like you were in a position to take the lead," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "We were on the 20-yard line on that last drive, and you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot. That's what we did."

The self-inflicted struggles didn't start in the fourth quarter, though. Pitt opened the game with a three-and-out that was created by a sack. Its second drive resulted in Harper's 42-yard miss, while the Panthers' third drive ended when tight end Drew Carswell fumbled and Syracuse recovered the ball for a 50-yard touchdown.

After Pitt scored a touchdown of its own in the second quarter, another sack led to another punt, and a false start and a protection breakdown led to a field goal at the end of the half, despite that drive starting in Syracuse territory.

The third quarter was more of the same, particularly when Pitt drove to the Syracuse 11 but had to settle for a field goal after a run, a dropped dump pass, and a scramble gained a net of one yard.

"I loved their effort and I loved the way they played tonight," Chryst said. "And yet, you look back and there were moments where you can win that game."

Instead, Pitt falls to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in Big East play. The Panthers were rolling after wins over Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, games that saw Pitt outscore its opponents 90-27. Now the team needs to figure out how to get back to the winning ways, and part of that is making sure Pitt isn't hurting Pitt.

"Right now we're pretty much facing two opponents," junior cornerback K'Waun Williams said. "We just have to stop beating ourselves. We have to play together and put this whole thing together so we can win these close games."

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