Pitt beats Duke in a wild, mistake-filled ACC game

Duke’s mistakes allowed Pittsburgh to build a 23-point lead Saturday night.

The Panthers, not comfortable with such luck, proceeded to make a bevy of their own mistakes to allow the Blue Devils to rally and take a late lead.

But Pitt delivered the final blow in the back-and-forth game.

Kenny Pickett’s 26-yard touchdown pass to V’Lique Carter with 38 seconds left allowed Pitt to regain the lead and hold on for a 33-30 ACC football win at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Less than a minute earlier, Deon Jackson caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Quentin Harris with 1:30 to play, allowing the Blue Devils to take a 30-26 lead.

Duke (3-2, 1-1 ACC) had one final possession hoping to at least send the game into overtime. But Harris fumbled while being sacked and Pitt recovered with 22 seconds to play. That was the Blue Devils’ sixth turnover of the game, with Harris responsible for five of them with three fumbles and two interceptions.

Pitt (4-2, 1-1 ACC) converted Duke’s first four turnovers into 17 points to lead 26-3 in the third quarter.

But a pair of Pitt fumbles and an interception allowed Duke back into the game.

Harris’ 4-yard touchdown run with 2:41 left in the third quarter started the comeback. Jackson’s 2-yard touchdown run followed by Jalon Calhoun’s two-point conversion cut Pitt’s lead to 26-18 with 13:09 to play.

Harris’ 3-yard touchdown with 9:10 left cut the Pitt lead to 26-24 but Duke’s two-point conversion, initially good, failed in the end when it had to be replayed due to an officials’ inadvertent signal.

Duke finally took the lead on Jackson’s touchdown catch but Pickett led the Panthers to their first touchdown since early in the third quarter for the game-winning points.

First down

Pittsburgh defensive back Paris Ford intercepted two of Harris’ passes in the first half, returning one 26 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown.


Duke forced four Pittsburgh turnovers, intercepting Pickett twice and recovering a pair of Panthers fumbles to fuel its comeback.


After committing just two turnovers during a three-game winning streak, including none over its last two games, Duke turned the ball over three times in the first quarter against Pittsburgh on the way to six in the game.


After trailing 26-3 in the third quarter, Duke appeared to tie the game with 9:10 remaining after Harris scored on a 2-yard touchdown run. With Pitt leading 26-24, Duke attempted a 2-point conversion. Harris ran the ball up the middle and appeared to be stopped at the goal line. One official, without blowing his whistle, waved the try no good. But Harris was still moving with the ball. He wriggled free and, while being grabbed by one teammate and pushed by another, fell into the end zone. The officials called the conversion good and said the game was tied. But, after a consultation, they ruled the line judge’s “inadvertent signal” meant the play had to be attempted a second time. Harris was stopped short on the second play, leaving Duke down 26-24.

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Key numbers

6: Panthers wins over Duke in the seven games since they became ACC rivals in 2013.

15: Pittsburgh penalties, costing the Panthers 145 yards

40: Number of yards Duke gained on 21 plays over its final seven possessions of the first half, which were ended by four punts and three turnovers.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.