Pitt Able to Exorcise Second Half Demons

Behind Kessman’s record-breaking day, Panthers get key ACC win

Josh Rowntree
October 06, 2018 - 8:56 pm
Pittsburgh Panthers place kicker Alex Kessman (97) kicks a fifty-five yard field goal from the hold of Jake Scarton (49) against the Syracuse Orange during the second quarter at Heinz Field.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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It was nearly another second half of futility for Pitt. But, for the first time this season, the Panthers overcame adversity after halftime, knocking off Syracuse, 44-37, in overtime, at Heinz Field.

Coming into the game, Pitt had been outscored 87-17 in the second half.

“This is something that we’re going to build on,” said senior wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes It’s something we were looking for, finishing the game. That’s something we’ve really been trying to harp on the last couple of weeks and so we feel like we’ve accomplished that.”

In the season opener, Pitt went scoreless after halftime, but also did not allow any points in the win over Albany. A week later, Pitt was outscored 37-0 by Penn State in the final two quarters. Georgia Tech nearly rallied for a win at Heinz Field the next Saturday, winning the second half 19-3. The last two weeks, at North Carolina and Central Florida, the Panthers were topped 31-14 after the break. 

“Our word for today was really just ‘perseverance,’” senior tailback Qadree Ollison said. “Perservering through everything, persevering through the tough times and being able to just push through all of those tough times.”

Ollison ran for 192 yards and a score, while running back mate Darrin Hall rushed for 107 and two touchdowns, including an overtime plunge that proved to be the game-winner. 

“This was a big win,” Hall said. “This was a tone-setter going into a big game next week.”

Unlike the first five games, this one had an uncontrollable and unexpected disturbance, as lightning delayed the game for over an hour during the third quarter. The delay came after Pitt had scored on its first possession of the second half to go up 27-17. 

“We had just came off the touchdown, so we had a lot of momentum,” Araujo-Lopes said. “At first, we were a little worried, like ‘ah, we might lose the juice.’ We were just in the locker room, making sure we stayed locked in, focused.”

And perhaps the Panther did lose some juice. Syracuse scored on four of its next five drives, with two touchdowns and two field goals. But keeping the Orange out of the end zone, ultimately, helped Pitt overcome some of its game-defining second half pains. 

“It’s just so important to keep that swagger, that energy, through the whole game,” said senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis, who had nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, which was returned by cornerback Dan Jackson for a touchdown. “I think that’s something that we’ve lacked before.” 

“Championship football teams play all four quarters. Every snap, every rep. I think that’s what we did today and that’s our goal for the rest of the season.”

Kessman’s Record Breaking Day

Pitt kicker Alex Kessman tied a Heinz Field record, connecting on a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter. Less than six minutes later, Kessman out-did himself, banging through a 55-yarder after a heavy rainstorm. 

The first field goal matched the longest kick in stadium history, as Old Dominion kicker Jarod Brown hit a 54-yard field goal in 2013. On the NFL side, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell and former Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey are tied for the pro record at 53. 

“I had no idea,” Kessman said. “No idea, until halftime when it came over the loudspeaker.” 

But the biggest kick of Kessman’s was not the longest. With eight seconds left in the game, the sophomore kicker knocked through a 45-yard kick to send the game to overtime. 

“I want it,” Kessman said of the high-leverage opportunity. “We punch the ball in, we win. That’s the ideal situation. But, if we can’t get it, I want that field goal. That’s what we live for.”

Kessman addressed the media postgame from the podium, which normally is only occupied by the team’s head coach, Pat Narduzzi, or possibly the quarterback after a big performance. But Kessman got the nod, and brought two of his teammates, longsnapper Cal Adamitis and holder Jake Scarton, to the podium stage with him.

Other teammates took notice of his monster performance. 

“Kessman is a hell of a kicker,” Araujo-Lopes said. “He’s looking like a pro out there. I told him, ‘you just keep kicking that way.’ He’s definitely an asset to this team.”

Hear all of what Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had to say in his postgame press conference below.