Pitt bowl-eligible after topping Miami, 35-23
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The biggest moment of James Conner’s night came long after the final whistle.
He ran for two touchdowns, helped Pittsburgh secure bowl eligibility with a 35-23 win over Miami on Saturday night and broke three of the Panthers’ longest-standing records along the way — then got a postgame phone call from the previous holder of those marks, none other than Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett.
Not bad for a guy who some figured would miss the game because of a hip injury.
“It was all worth it,” Conner said.
Dorsett told him that records were made to be broken, and congratulated Conner for eclipsing the standards he set in 1976 on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy and helping Pittsburgh win the national championship. Conner now holds the Pitt single-season marks for rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points after rushing for his 23rd and 24th scores of the year.
Conner’s hip was sore, but he’ll have a few weeks to get it right before a bowl game. Pitt (6-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its second straight game to ensure postseason eligibility for a seventh straight season.
Miami (6-6, 3-5) is bowl-bound as well, without any momentum whatsoever. The Hurricanes lost their third straight, spoiling a record-setting night for running back Duke Johnson, who became Miami’s No. 1 all-time rusher.
Johnson ran for 89 yards to pass Ottis Anderson, meaning the night was at best bittersweet.
“Satisfying and disappointing,” Johnson said. “When you reach a milestone like that, you want to come out with a victory in that game.”
Johnson thanked everyone from support staff to his teammates, which made his postgame remarks sound a bit like a farewell. But he insisted afterward that he has made no decision on whether to skip his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
Phillip Dorsett caught a 51-yard touchdown pass and became the seventh player with 2,000 receiving yards for the Hurricanes, who lost consecutive home games for the first time since October 2012.
“We need to perform better, and that’s my responsibility,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “We are what our record is, period. I’m disappointed.”
Quarterback Chris Voytik threw for a score and ran for another for Pitt, after needing intravenous fluids to combat a virus that struck him out of nowhere.
“I’ve probably never been that sick in one night,” Voytik said. “It was so unfortunate it happened before the game. It makes this time right now more sweeter to know that I can overcome something like that.”
Johnson ran for a touchdown and caught a scoring pass from Brad Kaaya, who has thrown at least one touchdown pass in all 12 games in his freshman season. Kaaya finished with 296 yards and two touchdowns.
Pitt never trailed, scoring touchdowns on three of its first four possessions.
Miami got within 21-20 when Johnson caught a 17-yard pass from Kaaya for a score early in the third quarter, but Tyler Boyd’s 53-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set the Panthers up for a five-play, 43-yard drive capped by Chris James’ 15-yard touchdown run.
And aided by a pair of third-down penalties, Pittsburgh — which lost six out of seven games in one stretch this season, including a home defeat to Akron — put a stranglehold on the game early in the fourth.
A pass interference call on Miami’s Artie Burns nullified a third-down incompletion from the Miami 20, and stopping Conner on third-and-goal from the 1 was wiped out by someone jumping into the neutral zone before the snap. Eventually, Voytik scored on fourth-and-inches by leaping over a pile at the goal line and the Panthers had a 35-23 lead.
That sent many in the Hurricane crowd to the exits, and they didn’t miss much in the final 13 minutes.
Boyd caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown for Pitt, which had lost its last eight games against the Hurricanes since 1997. But led by a sore Conner and ailing Voytik, the Panthers’ season lives on.
“That let you know how much we wanted this,” Boyd said. “It was all or nothing. If we don’t win, we sit around watching other people playing, and we didn’t want to do that.”