CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Chad Voytik made several big plays, but Virginia just made more.
The junior quarterback threw for two touchdowns, hit Tyler Boyd for 34 yards on a third-and-10 and hit Isaac Bennett for 17 yards on a third-and-10, but he said it was the plays Pittsburgh didn’t make in between that were to blame for their third consecutive loss, 24-19 to Virginia on Saturday night.
“It all comes down to executing, whether it’s momentum or big plays. That’s key in football,” said Voytik, who finished 16 for 30 for 195 yards despite being sacked four times and pressured all night.
“I think that’s what’s been evident. We are rolling, making big plays, that’s when things are happening. It’s just a domino effect. We just need to connect all the different phases on the field,” he said.
Voytik wasn’t without mistakes of his own. He threw an interception that Max Valles returned 35 yards for a touchdown in Virginia’s 21-point second quarter, and missed several open receivers.
The Panthers (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) don’t have long to fix things. They return to Virginia Thursday to play Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in another Coastal Division battle.
“Everybody loses something. We’ve lost three straight,” linebacker Todd Thomas said. “We can’t take it back, so we just have to pick our heads up and get ready for Virginia Tech. We just have to work.”
Getting their defense back to the way it started the season would help.
Kevin Parks ran for a career-high 169 yards and a long touchdown for the Cavaliers (4-2, 2-0), who piled up 225 rushing yard against a team that arrived at Scott Stadium allowing just 107 per game.
The Cavaliers built a 24-3 lead by halftime, then held on. Virginia also limited James Conner, who arrived third in the country with an average of 158 yards per game and second with nine touchdowns, to 83 yards on 21 carries. Twice they stuffed him on runs inside the 4 yard-line.
The Panthers got a long punt return from Tyler Boyd and a touchdown pass from 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 Chris Blewitt’s 24-yard field goal pulled Pittsburgh to within 24-13.
The stand seemed to be the wake-up call the Cavaliers’ defense needed.
The false start penalty was one of four against the Panthers in the game.
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 for the interception and ran 35 yards untouched to the end zone. 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.
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