No. 13 Virginia Tech falls to Pitt 35-17
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer remembers all too well how Pittsburgh made a habit of ruining potentially special seasons for his program when the two schools were in the Big East.
Nearly a decade after the Hokies bolted for the ACC - where the Panthers are slated to join them next fall - not much has changed.
Pitt forced No. 13 Virginia Tech into four first-half turnovers and bullied the Hokies all over the field in a 35-17 victory on Saturday, an emphatic opening salvo to a rivalry that will be renewed full time next fall when Pitt joins Virginia Tech in the ACC's Coastal Division.
''I thought (Pitt was) hitting on all cylinders, and I thought it was their day,'' Beamer said. ''We've got to play a lot better. (But) Pitt deserves a lot of credit. They played hard, and they played well. And they got the win today.''
Virginia Tech (2-1) has lost four straight to (1-2) Pitt dating back to 2001, with each loss coming while the Hokies were ranked in the Top 15. Unlike the last two meetings, however, this required no late-game heroics.
Some sloppy play by Virginia Tech made sure of that.
Quarterback Logan Thomas completed just 14 of 31 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown against three interceptions, the Hokies managed just 59 yards rushing. Not even a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown by Kyshoen Jarrett in the third quarter could produce the necessary spark for Virginia Tech to overcome an early 21-0 deficit.
''When we came out after halftime, we eliminated the score and said it was 0-0,'' Jarrett said. ''We felt like we could come out and play the way that we needed to play, and (my punt return) helped. But we weren't able to do much after that.''
Three times in the second half, the Hokies had the ball while trailing by 11. All three times they came up empty.
''We thought we had a shot the entire time, I guess, until the very end,'' Thomas said. ''We moved the ball all day, but we got inside their 40 and everything stopped.''
The Panthers had no such issues.
Pitt ran up 537 total yards led by running backs Ray Graham and Rushel Shell. Graham ran for 94 yards and two scores and added an 18-yard touchdown reception while Shell added 157 yards to give coach Paul Chryst his first win as head coach.
''I got to hear the fight song, which was nice,'' Chryst said with a laugh.
Virginia Tech had won 13 straight true road games, the longest active streak in the country, but let Pitt race to a quick three-touchdown lead and never really threatened.
ACC commissioner John Swofford even offered Pitt a pregame videotaped introduction before the opening kickoff, welcoming the Panthers to the league in 2013.
Somehow - after two baffling, listless losses to open the season - Pitt looked more than ready to make the move.
Using Graham and Shell expertly to chew up yardage and time, the Panthers controlled the ball for over 38 minutes and hardly looked like the team that was barely competitive in losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati.
Beamer downplayed Pitt's early season struggles, calling it the byproduct of having three different coaches in as many seasons.
The Panthers think they've finally found a keeper in Chryst, who has given the program a sense of calm. He insisted there was no panic in his team after such a horrific start.
He was right.
Instead, it was the Hokies who looked jittery during a nightmarish first half in which the Panthers built a 21-3 lead.
Virginia Tech has won 211 games since Beamer took over in 1987, but none after trailing by three touchdowns.
The Hokies got within 21-10 in the third quarter Jarrett's 94-yard punt return for a score, but the Panthers responded with an expert toss from Tino Sunseri to Graham, whose surgically repaired right knee appears just fine.
Again Virginia Tech responded with a big play, as Thomas hit Marcus Davis for an 85-yard catch-and-run to make it 28-17. And when the Hokies got the ball back at the Pitt 36 following a Sunseri interception early in the fourth quarter, it looked as if the Panthers were wobbling.
Thomas was sacked on first down and followed it up with two straight incompletions. The Hokies punted and Pitt drove 88 yards in a crunching 15-play drive to put Virginia Tech away. At one point the Hokies had appeared to hold Pitt to a field goal, but an offside penalty on the kick gave Pitt a first down at the Virginia Tech 4 and Sunseri followed with a 4-yard toss to Mike Shanahan for the final margin.
''Their first two games, they just didn't play as hard as they did today,'' Thomas said. ''They're a good defense. They're strong, and they're physical. They're fast, and they make you make mistakes. They did that today, and that's what won them the game. They played real hard.''
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP