No. 23 Pitt relishes late-game success
PITTSBURGH (AP) When the third quarter ended Saturday at Syracuse, Pittsburgh’s coaches and players celebrated. They sprayed water bottles, jumped around and shouted despite facing a four-point deficit.
The Panthers weren’t celebrating the end of the game, but rather the beginning of the fourth quarter, as they’ve done in each game this season. After Pitt blew three fourth-quarter leads in 2014, new coach Pat Narduzzi revamped the team’s attitude toward the final period.
”At the end of the day you’ve got to win the game,” Narduzzi said. ”If it’s a close game, you’ve got to step up and make something happen.”
What’s been the key to Pitt’s late-game success?
”Energy and focus,” middle linebacker Matt Galambos said. ”You see before the fourth quarter we all get together at midfield and we’re trying to have a party on the field.”
Pitt went 1-5 in one-score games during the 2014 season, which ended in a fourth-consecutive 6-6 regular-season finish. Now under Narduzzi and their ”party” mentality, the Panthers are 5-1 in such contests as they’ve soared to a 6-1 start and No. 23 ranking.
”Pitt-ing” in recent seasons entailed the Panthers finding unexpected, gut-wrenching ways to lose games. Half a season into Narduzzi’s tenure, ”Pitt-ing” now features a team playing to win rather than one merely playing not to lose.
”It’s no secret,” Narduzzi said. ”You’ve just got to do it and you have to have that attitude to win football games whenever that opportunity exists.”
The latest rendition of the ”new Pitt” came in the 23-20 victory at Syracuse on Saturday, when the Panthers used a 19-play, 89-yard drive that spanned the final 9:20 to set up Chris Blewitt’s walk-off 25-yard field goal.
The victory marked the first time in six years the Panthers won a game they trailed in the fourth quarter. Pitt’s last comeback was six years ago in a 19-17 victory against North Carolina – the Panthers’ opponent Thursday night – in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Until Saturday, Pitt lost 32 consecutive games it trailed in the fourth quarter.
”It really started back in spring ball,” Galambos said. ”Once the coaches got here, starting that culture to finish everything. It’s not over until that whistle blows.”
Even before then, to ensure the players didn’t forget about previous late-game pitfalls, the new coaching staff dubbed the team’s early morning winter conditioning workouts as the ”Fourth-Quarter Program.”
Galambos, honored as the ACC Linebacker of the Week after he intercepted a pass and caught a pass on a fake punt that kept Pitt’s winning drive alive, and the rest of the Panthers have followed the example set by their lively coach.
”It’s just Coach Narduzzi,” Galambos said. ”He has so much energy all the time, it’s hard not to feel that energy. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in the meeting room, practice, lifting, from all the coaches it really trickles down to us.”