Pitt's offense finally finishes
MORE HEADLINES: - Photos from the win | Post-game video: Jester Weah | Post-game video: Pat Narduzzi | Post-game video: Chawntez Moss | Post-game video: Ejuan Price | The full box score: Pitt 43, Marshall 27
Three weeks in a row, Pitt’s offense took the field late in the fourth quarter with a chance to close out a win. And all three times, the offense failed to do so.
So when Pitt took the ball with four minutes and one second left against Marshall Saturday night at Heinz Field, clinging to a three-point lead after getting outscored 27-3 in the second half to that point, the Panthers needed to do a whole lot better than they had done against Penn State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina in late-game situations.
The result was a six-play, 75-yard drive that took two minutes and 57 seconds off the clock but, more importantly, gave Pitt a nail-in-the-coffin touchdown to put the game away.
“Our goal was to come in and finish the game, and our guys did a heck of a job of finishing, on both sides of the ball, really,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said after the game. “That last drive - our offense, with four minutes to go or four and change or whatever it was - that’s our four-minute drill that we have talked about the last couple weeks and have not been able to get that first down.”
The inability to close out a game had become a trend for Pitt in recent weeks. Against Penn State, the Panthers took the ball with a 42-39 lead and exactly five minutes left on the clock, and they proceeded to go three-and-out. In a tie game at Oklahoma State, Pitt took over with 5:14 on the clock and gained two first downs before stalling at midfield. And last week at North Carolina, the Panthers were leading by six points with 5:24 to go, but they gave the ball right back to the Tar Heels with a three-and-out.
That’s why all eyes were on the offense Saturday night when it took the field for a drive that would define the game - one way or the other. A clutch catch by Scott Orndoff on third-and-5 gave Pitt a fresh set of downs, but Marshall forced another third down and called a timeout to stop the clock before that play was run.
With the game on the line, Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Matt Canada had a conversation.
“He said, ‘You want to go for the touchdown or you want to run it up in there and see what happens?’” Narduzzi recalled in his post-game press conference. “I said, ‘I want a first down. I want a touchdown.’ It was a heck of a call by Coach Canada and the offensive staff.”
The call: a pass down the left sideline to Jester Weah. The redshirt junior receiver had already put in a standout performance, with 122 yards on six receptions to that point. But on this play - the biggest play of the game - the Wisconsin native made the biggest play of his career, jumping over Marshall cornerback Chris Jackson, pulling in the pass and then running away from Jackson down the sideline to the end zone.
The touchdown was a nice touch, but the catch and the first down that came with it are what truly put the game away.
“I was just thinking, I have to catch this,” Weah said. “I know it’s coming to me; I have to make this play.”
Weah made the play and Pitt’s offense did what it had been trying to do for the last three games: finish a win.