Parks runs Virginia past Pittsburgh, 24-19
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Kevin Parks wants to make it very clear that he’s all about being a team player and doing what he’s asked to do. He’s also glad that Virginia’s coaches turned to him to do more in their 24-19 victory against Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
The senior ran 29 times for 169 yards, both career highs, and had a 48-yard scoring run as the Cavaliers (4-2, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) earned a key victory against a Coastal Division opponent.
“He felt like I had the hot hand today and they rode me a little bit,” Parks said of coach Mike London.
Parks was the headliner, but Matt Johns threw for a touchdown and Virginia’s defense slowed Pittsburgh’s running game and got a 35-yard interception return for a score from Max Valles as it build a 24-3 halftime lead and then held off a rally.
Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-1) lost its third straight as James Conner, who arrived third in the country with an average of 158 yards per game and second with nine touchdowns, was held to 83 yards and was stuffed on two runs near the goal line.
The stand came with Virginia leading 24-10 and the Panthers threatening again with a first down at the 4 yard-line.
“It was really big because they were looking to get two touchdowns on their first two drives,” defensive tackle David Dean said. Instead, Conner gained 2 yards on first down, 1 on second and then a penalty pushed them back to the 6.
After an incomplete pass, Chris Blewitt’s 24-yard field goal made it 24-13.
The false start penalty that moved them back could have been a game-changer, Panthers coach Paul Chryst said.
“Those are hard,” he said. “And then we didn’t make a play on third down. We certainly thought about going for it. It would have been fourth and 6, but I thought it was really important, too, that we get some points out of it.”
Pittsburgh got a long punt return from Tyler Boyd and a touchdown pass from Chad Voytik to J.P. Holtz with 1:27 remaining to get within 24-19, but Voytik’s 2-point conversion pass attempt was batted down.
Virginia seemed well on its way to a big victory until its momentum evaporated in the third quarter.
They took the kickoff, were forced to punt and it was blocked by Dontez Ford, and the Panthers took possession at Virginia’s 31. Five plays later, Voytik hit Manasseh Garner for 17 yards and the touchdown.
Virginia drove to midfield on the ensuing possession, but when Matt Johns rolled right and tried an off-balance throw downfield to Taquan Mizzell, Pat Amara intercepted and Pitt took over at its 33.
The Panthers drove to a first-and-goal at the Cavaliers 4, but Virginia’s defense stiffened with the aid of a false start penalty and Pitt settled for Blewitt’s field goal.
The stand seemed to be the wake-up call the Cavaliers’ defense needed.
Virginia had seemingly broken the game open with 21 points in a span of 8:11 in the second quarter.
Parks followed Johns’ 19-yard completion to Miles Gooch with a 48-yard run off the left side for a touchdown. It was Parks’ longest run of the year and put him on his way to 115 yards by halftime.
After the Panthers’ fourth punt of the half, Virginia drove 78 yards in nine plays. The drive was highlighted by a lateral that Johns threw to Gooch, a former quarterback, and Gooch’s 28-yard pass to Zach Swanson that moved the ball to the Pitt 4. Johns’ swing pass for 3 yards to Khalek Shepherd three plays later pushed the lead to 17-3, and Virginia’s pressure on Voytik helped it grow again a minute later.
Pressured, Voytik threw for Conner, but Max Valles stepped in front of the pass intended for Conner and ran 35 yards untouched to the end zone, taking a diagonal route, he said, to run toward the student section.
“I was just waiting for the quarterback to throw it because I knew if he threw it to the back, I would pick it off,” Valles said.
It was the Cavaliers’ 19th takeaway of the season, and the ensuing extra point gave them 72 points off those plays; Last year, they scored 13 off 21 takeaways.
Voytik completed passes of 34 yards to Tyler Boyd and 23 to Kevin Weatherspoon on the Panthers’ lone first-half scoring drive, which ended with Chris Blewitt’s 36-yard field goal that tied the game at 3.
The Cavaliers drove 57 yards to Ian Frye’s 32-yard field goal with their first possession.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr