PITTSBURGH — Israel Abanikanda ran for 113 yards and a touchdown and Brandon Hill returned a Duke fumble 30 yards for a score as Pittsburgh edged the Blue Devils 28-26 on Saturday.
The Panthers (7-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat the Blue Devils (7-4, 4-3) for the eighth time in nine meetings despite nearly squandering a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Duke’s Riley Leonard threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns, including a 19-yard fourth-down strike to Jaylen Coleman with 47 seconds to go that pulled the Blue Devils within two. Duke appeared to try its own version of the “Philly Special” on the conversion, but the Panthers swarmed Blue Devils wide receiver Jordan Moore before Moore could locate Leonard running free in the end zone.
Hill’s 30-yard scoop and score put the Panthers up 28-14 with 13:30 to play. Yet Pitt made a series of miscues down the stretch, including leaving Moore uncovered on a 49-yard touchdown pass that made it 28-20 with 9:28 remaining. Duke curiously opted to go for two after the score, with Leonard’s pass falling incomplete.
The mistakes didn’t end there. A botched snap by Panthers punter Caleb Junko gave Duke the ball at the Pitt 22 with 3:15 to go. The Panthers eventually forced a fourth-and-18 at the Pitt 19 but left Coleman all alone near the goal line. He walked into the end zone but Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis blew up the conversion and the Panthers held on for their third straight win.
Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis completed 15 of 32 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and two costly second-half interceptions that prevented the Panthers from pulling away. Pitt played most of the second half without star defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. The Nagurski and Outland Trophy finalist didn’t play most of the final two quarters due to an apparent injury.
The Blue Devils were hardly mistake-free. In addition to the fumble by Jordan Waters that Hill returned for a score, wide receiver Jontavis Robertson dropped a touchdown late in the third quarter when a fourth-down heave by Leonard from the Pitt 32 smacked off his hands and fell to the turf.
Duke: Mike Elko’s first season with the Blue Devils is an unqualified success. Yet with the Panthers seemingly eager to hand them the game, Elko may have outsmarted himself by not simply opting for an extra point attempt after drawing within eight.
Pitt: The Panthers have maintained most of the season that they’ve been their own worst enemy, a habit that cost them a shot at repeating as ACC champions. It nearly happened again against the Blue Devils, but a chance for a fifth eight-win season under Pat Narduzzi remains a real possibility, something the Panthers will take after a sluggish October ended any hopes of another trip to the conference title game.
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