The Panthers (5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) got a 93-yard kickoff return touchdown from Quadree Henderson and a 59-yard interception return touchdown from Jordan Whitehead, the latter to allow the Panthers to take a 35-28 lead into halftime.
Whitehead, deep in coverage as Virginia was trying to push the issue and sneak in more points before halftime, stepped in front of Kurt Benkert's pass at the Panthers' 41 and never stopped running.
"It was gigantic. It was gigantic," Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said of Whitehead's interception, which came as Virginia was trying to get a score before the half. "We've been waiting for one of those picks in that coverage and we finally got one. ... Tremendous football play by him and then he finds a way to get it in the end zone."
The play came when Virginia had a receiver wide open on the previous play, and Cavaliers offensive coordinator Robert Anae immediately called the exact same play, deciding to be aggressive after the Cavaliers gained 12 yards rushing on their first play of the drive.
"It completely backfired on us," Anae said. "That was my fault all the way. I blew the call and put our quarterback in a bad situation."
Virginia (2-4, 1-1) had its two-game winning streak end. The Cavaliers moved the ball at will in the opening 30 minutes, piling up 270 yards, but were just the opposite thereafter. They gained 15 yards in the third quarter and finished with 108 yards in the half.
Nathan Peterman threw two touchdown passes for Panthers, the last making it 42-28 with 9:47 left.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have scored at least 36 points in six consecutive games, a program record, so offense isn't a problem. Their run defense is statistically solid, but might be artificially so because its pass defense is spotty. Kurt Benkert thrived in the first half, when Pitt had no sacks, but the Cavaliers quarterback seemed rattled after the Panthers sacked him three times in four plays early after halftime.
Whitehead isn't Pittsburgh's only two-way player anymore.
The safety, who also carried the ball three times for 28 yards, was joined in that versatility by Conner, who took a few snaps at defensive end.
''We've been kind of working that in and as you guys know, he was recruited as a defensive lineman,'' Narduzzi said. ''... James is a super football player. I was happy he got a hurry on the quarterback and we'll have a little bit more of that.''
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have a bye next weekend, and will then play Virginia Tech at Heinz Field on Thursday night, Oct. 27.
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