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— story and pictures by Patrick Magoon (patrickmagoon.com) of WIZS — Patrick Magoon is a recent UNC-C communications graduate looking to build his sports portfolio by writing and taking photos for WIZS
Despite an uncomfortably slow and disheartening first three quarters for Duke’s offense, the team erased Pittsburgh’s early 23-point lead within the final fifteen minutes and kept the game at an equal level until the Panthers pieced together a game-winning offensive series with just under 50 seconds left on the clock.
Sometimes a slow start can make a big difference in the end.
Duke left the half confused and looking for answers after conceding 19 points and successfully scoring points on just one offensive series. Two early interceptions and a costly fumble recovered by Pittsburgh in the first quarter had Duke down ten and fighting a treacherous uphill battle for the remained of the game.
While Pittsburgh’s ground game also struggled against the Blue Devils’ solid defensive line at times, Duke’s series of offensive woes trumped the failed drives of the visiting Panthers. Once Pittsburgh got on a roll, Duke couldn’t keep up.
The Panthers, at the top of the third quarter, extended their lead to 23 points after capping off a 2-play, 7-yard offensive series with a Nakia Griffin-Stewart 4-yard touchdown catch. Duke’s first touchdown of the night didn’t come until the final three minutes of the third quarter when Quentin Harris rushed into the endzone for a 4-yard score.
But wait, the Blue Devils’ scoring efforts didn’t stop there. Oddly enough, the best was yet to come.
Duke outscored the Panthers 20-7 in the fourth quarter after capitalizing on three careless turnovers. The Blue Devils recovered a fumble, which resulted in a triumphant 9-play, 43-yard touchdown drive. After the successful completion of the two-point attempt, Pittsburgh’s lead shrunk to just one score. With approximately 13 minutes left on the scoreboard, Duke had plenty of time to keep the momentum churning and fight for the lead in crunch time.
Minutes later, Pittsburgh’s offense returned to the field and made another brutal mistake. Pickett’s pass was picked off by Duke’s Edgar Cerenord, who returned it to the 25-yard line. The late turnover set up a 7-play, 25-yard scoring play, which gave Duke its first lead of the game.
With time running out, the Panthers, in 47 seconds, drove the ball 82 yards down the field. Pittsburgh’s V’Lique Carter evaded multiple tackles and took the ball 26 yards to the end zone, which secured the win.
Duke showed superior toughness and determination but never fully recovered from their careless first-half mistakes.
Best offensive performances
Duke: RB Deon Jackson (60 yards rushing and 47 yards receiving), Aaron Young (32 yards receiving), and Jalon Calhoun (27 yards receiving).
Pittsburgh: Todd Sibley Jr. (60 yards rushing), V’Lique Carter (18 yards rushing), Taysir Mack (85 yards receiving), and Maurice Ffrench (54 yards receiving).
Best defensive performances
Duke: Koby Quansah (11 tackles, one for a loss), Brandon Hill (10 tackles, one for a loss), Victor Dimukeje (two tackles, both sacks) and Marquis Waters (nine tackles, 0.5 for a loss).
Pittsburgh: Paris Ford (12 tackles, one touchdown), Saleem Brightwell (12 tackles), Kylan Johnson (nine tackles, one for a loss, and one PD), and Patrick Jones II (six tackles, two sacks)