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Panthers Drop Heartbreaker To Syracuse, 14-13

Devin Street catches a pass against Syracuse.

Devin Street catches a pass against Syracuse.

Oct. 5, 2012

Final Stats |  Photo Gallery  | Paul Chryst | Ryan Turnley

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Adonis Ameen-Moore scored on 1-yard run, Dyshawn Davis returned a fumble 52 yards for another score, and Syracuse broke out of a yearlong funk with a 14-13 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night.

Syracuse (2-3, 1-0 Big East) hadn't beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team since last October, losing eight straight since a stunning win over a ranked West Virginia team. Syracuse also snapped a seven-game losing streak against Pittsburgh (2-3, 0-2), which had won two straight.

Both teams were coming off bye weeks, and this was their last meeting as members of the Big East. Both will join the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, and they will continue to play one another each year.

Syracuse finally put together a solid game after four erratic efforts.

The Orange scored first and never trailed, played well on special teams, converted a turnover into a touchdown, stymied Ray Graham and the Pitt running game, and pressured Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri when the game was on the line.

Defensive end Brandon Sharpe broke through for three sacks, and when Sunseri seemed poised to give Pitt the lead late in the fourth quarter, the defense rose again.

Sunseri was called for intentional grounding and on the next play cornerback Brandon Reddish stormed in from the left side on a blitz and sacked Sunseri for a loss of 9 yards. That all came after Sunseri had hit Devin Street for 15 yards, J.P. Holtz for another 15, and Mike Shanahan for 24 on consecutive plays.

Sunseri finished 25 of 33 for 319 yards to move past John Congemi and Rod Rutherford to fourth-all time at Pitt with 6,765 yards. Street had a career-high 10 catches for 130 yards. The Panthers finished with 27 yards rushing on 37 carries, with Graham netting 57 on 24 carries.

Ryan Nassib was 19 of 30 for 185 yards with one interception for Syracuse.

After starting the season in dismal fashion, losing by two touchdowns to Youngstown State, an FCS team, and Big East foe Cincinnati, Pitt had rallied nicely behind first-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers stunned then-No. 13 Virginia Tech 35-17, forcing the Hokies into four first-half turnovers, and two weeks ago evened the score against FCS teams with a 55-10 victory over Gardner-Webb.

The Panthers fell behind Syracuse by two touchdowns in the first quarter, managed to force only one turnover after getting seven the previous two games, and Sunseri couldn't rally them again.

Syracuse's ho-huddle offense had produced lots of yardage in the first four games, but much of it had come in spurts after the Orange had fallen behind. Nassib was flawless the first time Syracuse had the ball against Pitt.

After forcing the Panthers into a three-and-out on the game's first possession, Syracuse marched quickly for the first touchdown of the game, mixing the run with the pass as the Pitt defenders seemed to struggle to get a handle on the pace of play.

Nassib had four completions for 51 yards, while Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley combined to rush for 18 yards to set up Moore's 1-yard touchdown at 9:54. Moore's first career TD came on his first carry of the season.

Through four games, the Syracuse defense had produced only four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble recovery) as the Orange struggled with one of the worst turnover margins in the country (minus-1.5).

Syracuse made it 14-0 late in the first on Davis's fumble return. Sunseri hit Drew Carswell for a short gain near midfield and he lost the ball after a hit by Jeremi Wilkes, and Davis scooped it up and scored untouched down the right side.

Coming into the Syracuse game, Sunseri ranked as the Big East's most efficient passer (15th nationally) with a 166.80 rating, and he combined with Street to rally the Panthers. Sunseri was 16 of 21 for 187 yards in the first half, and eight of those passes went to Street for 107 yards. Street's 14-yard catch over the middle on a third-and-7 from the Syracuse 20 set up Graham's 1-yard scoring run, which came on third down after some spirited play by the Orange front.

Kevin Harper's 40-yard field goal pulled Pitt within 14-10 at halftime and he hit a 27-yarder late in the third to make it 14-13. Sunseri set up the second with a gutsy throw as he was being hit, somehow finding Shanahan for a 46-yard gain down the left side.

Syracuse's lone victory this season came against FCS power Stony Brook, a hard-fought 28-17 triumph last month in the Carrier Dome. So head coach Doug Marrone was more than willing to gamble against Pitt and it nearly paid off. Nassib hit Jarrod West for 18 yards on a fourth-and-9 from the Pitt 33 in the second quarter, but three plays later Pitt's K'Waun Williams intercepted Nassib in the right corner of the end zone.

Pitt's last loss to Syracuse was 38-31 in double overtime in the Carrier Dome in 2004. The Panthers won last year's meeting at Heinz Field, 33-20, in the regular-season finale for both teams, preventing the Orange from gaining its sixth victory and becoming eligible to play in the postseason.