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September 21, 2013

Pitt holds on to beat Duke

DURHAM, N.C. - Pitt's offense was dominant from start to finish, and the Panthers barely held on to their first ACC win with a 58-55 victory over Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Pitt's (2-1, 1-1) offense was a mix of method and explosion in the first half. After opening the game with a 12-play/85-yard touchdown drive and capitalizing on an interception that gave the Panthers the ball on a short field, Pitt hit on two big passing plays to seemingly blow the game open.

The first big play was a 67-yard throw from Tom Savage to Devin Street, and the next time Pitt took the field, Savage launched one to Tyler Boyd, who ran 69 yards for a score.

Savage and Boyd connected for three touchdowns in the first half and both put up eye-popping numbers before halftime, with Boyd catching five passes for 130 yards and Savage connecting on 13-of-19 for 298 yards and four total touchdown passes. Street also had 115 yards and James Conner rushed 16 times for 144 yards, all before halftime.

The Pitt defense seemed to be doing its job early as well, ending Duke's first two drives with interceptions. But then the floodgates opened, as the Blue Devils' running game found its wheels. Led by quarterback Brandon Connette, Duke did work on the ground, rushing for 145 yards in the first half while Connette threw for a pair of touchdowns.

The Blue Devils cut Pitt's lead to two points with three minutes left in the second quarter when Jamison Crowder took a punt return 82 yards to the end zone. Pitt drove 65 yards in eight plays over the course of two minutes and 34 seconds to add another score before halftime, but the Panthers seemed to be in a dangerous position despite heading into the locker room, despite holding a 37-28 advantage.

Pitt seemed to emerge from the danger zone at the start of the third quarter, though, as the defense forced three punts - sniffing out a fake on one of those -and the offense scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives. Duke wouldn't go away, though, as Connette connected with Brandon Baxton on a 75-yard touchdown pass and the Blue Devils added another score two minutes into the fourth quarter to cut Pitt's lead to 10.

Just as it looked like Duke could make a run, though, Anthony Gonzalez picked off a Connette pass and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. But the Blue Devils kept battling with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, but the Panthers put the game away with a big 13-yard pass on third-and-7 to set the final score.

Savage completed 23-of-33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns, the most by a Pitt quarterback since Pete Gonzalez threw seven in an overtime game against Rutgers in 1997. Conner finished with 173 yards on 26 carries, while Boyd caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns and Street had 166 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.

Pitt and Duke combined for 1,137 yards of total offense and 53 first downs in the highest-scoring game in Pitt history.

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