Late goal-line stand lifts Virginia Tech past Pittsburgh Panthers, 20-14
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Cam Phillips had 117 yards receiving and scored the game-winning touchdown, and Virginia Tech’s defense kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone on the final play to lift the Hokies to a 20-14 victory over the Panthers on Saturday.
Phillips broke the school record for career receiving yardage when he hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Jackson with 6:23 remaining. The touchdown gave the Hokies (8-3, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) a 20-14 lead, and they held on, snapping a two-game losing streak.
“The way it finished is indicative of who our players are and what they’re about,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “They refused to let themselves down and found a way to get it done.”
Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-5) used a 74-yard pass play from Kenny Pickett to Jester Weah on its final drive to get to the Virginia Tech 1 with less than 30 seconds to go. But Pittsburgh’s four attempts to get into the end zone failed, with the Hokies’ Khalil Ladler tackling Panthers tailback Darrin Hall for a 3-yard loss on the game’s final play.
“We have to block,” Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We have to guard. We can sit here and talk about play calls, but you have to block. We had four downs to get one yard. They’re a good football team. We knew that they have a good run defense, but it’s a yard. We have to be able to get a yard.”
Jackson completed just 17 of 37 for 218 yards for the Hokies, with Phillips catching eight passes. He now has 2,981 career receiving yards.
Coming on in place of starter Ben DiNucci, Pickett completed 15 of 23 for 242 yards and one interception.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers pretty much saw their hopes of a bowl bid end with their second straight loss. Pickett, a freshman playing in just his third game this season, played well, but his interception was costly, as it led to Virginia Tech’s game-winning score.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies’ offense has been inconsistent this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense, led by Greg Stroman, has made up for it, and that was the case again Saturday. Stroman, a cornerback and punt returner, has been the Hokies’ most valuable player this season, with four interceptions, including one for a score, and two punt returns for touchdowns. Against Pittsburgh, his interception led to the game-winning score, and he also broke up a third-down pass in the end zone with 3 seconds left.
CHANGE AT QB
Virginia Tech’s defense is particularly strong against the run – the Hokies’ held the Panthers to just 55 yards rushing – so Narduzzi made the decision to take out DiNucci and play Pickett after DiNucci threw an interception late in the first quarter. Pickett had not played in Pittsburgh’s previous three games.
“They’re one of the top running defenses in the country,” Narduzzi said. “We knew that. That’s why Kenny was in the game. He’s probably a better passer at this point. We took a shot with some of the balls he threw. We’ll continue to evaluate that position.”
Virginia Tech’s Reggie Floyd made arguably the biggest play in the game. On Pittsburgh’s final drive, Bennett hit Weah on a post pattern, and Weah broke a tackle, sprinting into the open field. Floyd, though, caught him and brought him down at the Virginia Tech 1 for a 74-yard gain. Officials originally ruled the play a touchdown, but reviewed it and saw that Weah’s knee touched down at the 1.
“The play of the game was Reggie Floyd not giving up on that play,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “We talk to our kids every day about finishing, and today was a big part of it. Every blade of grass is critical, and it was in that play right there. You talk about a big-time effort.”
“Everyone was telling me it was a good play,” Floyd said. “But it’s something that is expected, so it’s nothing new.”
Phillips’ 100-yard game marked his fifth of the season and the sixth of his career. He already held the school’s record for career receptions, but wasn’t aware that he had broken former receiver Isaiah Ford’s record for career receiving yards in the game.
“What record?” he said when asked his reaction to breaking the mark. When told, he said, “I didn’t know that, but that’s pretty cool.”
Pittsburgh: The Panthers conclude their regular season Friday with a home game against Coastal-Division champion Miami.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies finish their regular season Friday with a road game against in-state rival Virginia. Virginia Tech has won 13 straight against the Cavaliers.