ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The formula for Pitt against Navy on Saturday was a simple one: play disciplined defense to stop the Midshipmen's triple-option rushing attack, and score enough for a comfortable lead in case Navy's offense found a rhythm.
Neither part of that formula worked well enough for long enough, though, and the Panthers fell to Navy 24-21 on a 31-yard field goal from kicker Nick Sloan as time expired.
Pitt's defense actually looked strong in the first half. The Panthers (4-3) forced three-and-outs on three of Navy's first-half drives, and the Midshipmen's biggest play was a fluky deflected pass that fell to receiver Marcus Thomas, who ran to the end zone for the game's first touchdown.
That play accounted for 59 of Navy's 135 first-half yards, and the Midshipmen's rushing attack - which entered the game averaging 304 yards per game - was held to just 73 yards on the ground before halftime.
Meanwhile, Pitt's offense seemed to come up short more often than not in the first half. The Panthers drove 68 yards on 16 plays in seven minutes and 32 seconds on the game-opening possession, but had to settle for a field goal when a Savage pass on third-and-4 from the Navy 7 bounced off Manasseh Garner's hands.
Two drives later, Pitt moved across midfield into Navy territory before James Conner fumbled on a third-down run. The Panthers drove inside the 30 on their next possession, but a Savage incomplete pass led to another field goal.
Pitt finally broke through on its final drive of the first half, hitting on 20-yard passes to Tyler Boyd and Garner, running the ball into the red zone, getting bonus yards from a defensive holding penalty and then capitalizing when Savage threw a 13-yard dart to Devin Street for a touchdown to take a 13-7 lead into halftime.
The offense didn't build on that drive in the second half, though; instead, Pitt went three-and-out on both of its third-quarter possessions despite taking the ball with good field position in both cases. That became a considerable issue when Navy's offense finally manufactured the inevitable long touchdown drive.
On the Midshipmen's third drive of the second half, Navy marched 91 yards in 16 plays - with the aid of a Pitt pass interference that converted a third-and-6 situation - and scored on a nine-yard run by fullback Quinton Singleton.
Trailing for the first time all game, Pitt's offense found the will to answer. Buoyed by three catches from Street and a huge 21-yard reception by Rachid Ibrahim that also drew a facemask penalty, Pitt drove 75 yards, culminating with a three-yard pass from Savage to Tyler Boyd for the Panthers' second touchdown of the game. And Savage connected with Street on a two-point conversion pass to give Pitt a seven-point lead.
But Navy answered right back. Starting at their own 29, the Midshipmen consistently hit solid rushing gains and mixed in a pair of passes before Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds dodged a tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke off a 31-yard run. One play later, Reynolds crossed the goal line, and the game was tied at 21-21 with 3:52 left on the clock.
As was the case throughout the game, Pitt's offense couldn't capitalize on opportunity. Faced with a chance to be heroes, the offensive Panthers went backward with a sack on first down and a zero-run scramble on third down. Punter Matt Yoklic shanked a 20-yard punt to set up Navy with a manageable distance to field goal range.
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