How much nicer is it being the team with the substantial early lead? After being on the wrong end of 42-0 and 31-0 deficits to Clemson and North Carolina at the half this season, Miami went into halftime up 23-3 and held off a late charge by Pittsburgh for a 29-24 win to close out the regular season at Heinz Field on Friday afternoon.
The Panthers had a chance to win with five seconds left from their own 20-yard line, but came up empty after one final play. Miami won when the ball rolled out of bounds near the 30-yard line on a failed lateral to end the game.
Freshman running back Mark Walton showed off his receiving skills to put the Canes up 29-10 in the middle of the fourth. Walton took a screen pass 17 yards on third-and-12 from Miami’s 21, then followed that up with a one-handed, 41-yard catch. Sophomore kicker Michael Badgley finished off the drive with a 29-yard field goal with 6:51 remaining, his fifth make of the game.
The three-possession lead didn’t last long though, as freshman Quadree Henderson returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards down to Miami’s 2-yard line. Quarterback Nate Peterman connected with junior tight end Scott Orndoff in the back of the end zone one play later, then ran in the two-point conversion himself to cut Miami’s lead to 29-18.
The Canes went three-and-out and only took 19 seconds off the clock in their next drive. Pitt had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but the aptly named kicker Chris Blewitt missed a 47-yard field goal wide left, his second miss of the day.
Pitt put a scare into Miami on its next drive. Junior receiver Tyler Boyd, who was quiet for most of the game, set the Panthers up at the 5 with a 36-yard catch. Peterman ran in for the touchdown three plays later, but Miami kept a five-point lead after junior cornerback Corn Elder stuffed Boyd on the two-point conversion.
The Hurricanes jumped out to 10-0 lead not even 10 minutes into the first quarter and finished off a difficult regular season with an impressive performance. The Canes struggled at the end of the last two seasons, but are now 4-1 since the firing of former head coach Al Golden on Oct. 25.
Sophomore running back Joseph Yearby trounced the Pitt defense in the opening drive for 57 rushing yards on eight carries. Sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya put the Canes up 7-0 with a 1-yard quarterback sneak on fourth down to end a 13-play, 75-yard possession.
The Canes (8-4, 5-3) quickly led by double digits after junior cornerback Artie Burns got his sixth interception of the season on Nate Peterman’s first throw of the game. Miami took over at Pitts’s 23, but failed to advance the ball past the 16-yard line. Badgley made it 10-0 on a 33-yard field goal, his first of three in the opening half.
Elder nearly picked off Peterman on the next drive, but redshirt junior safety Rayshawn Jenkins batted the pass incomplete when he went for the interception. Pitt once again gave Miami strong field position when the Canes took over at their own 30 after Blewitt hit the right upright on a 48-yard field goal attempt.
Kaaya put Miami in scoring position one play later on a 48-yard flea-flicker pass to junior receiver Stacy Coley, which placed Coley 10th in Miami history for career all-purpose yards with 3,015 yards. Kaaya found redshirt senior receiver Rashawn Scott on the left side of the end zone on the next play for a 22-yard touchdown, putting Miami ahead 17-0 with 2:34 left in the first.
The Canes outgained Pitt 152-47 in the opening quarter, averaging 8.7 yards per play to just 3 for the Panthers.
Badgley extended Miami’s lead with a 48-yard field goal with 9:49 left in the second quarter. Badgley has made all seven of his attempts between 40-49 yards this season and is 12-for-12 on those kicks in his career.
Pitt (8-4, 6-2) responded with a promising drive that had the Panthers inside Miami’s 10-yard line. A dropped pass in the end zone on third down forced the Panthers to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Blewitt with 5:02 remaining.
Miami didn’t end the quarter with a touchdown, but Kaaya methodically marched the Canes down field in a 17-play, 72-yard drive to close out the first half. Badgley sent the Canes into the break up 23-3 and set a single-season school record for field goals with 23 makes this year on a 23-yarder.
The Canes dominated possession in the first half, controlling the ball for 17:03 compared to 12:57 for the Panthers. Miami outgained Pitt 248 to 102 in total yards and racked up 13 first downs.
Pitt finally found the back of the end zone with 3:52 left in the third quarter on a 35-yard touchdown run by freshman Darrin Hall.
Miami came right back and drove 47 yards in 10 plays, taking 5:14 off the clock in the process. Badgley put the Canes up 26-10 on his fourth field goal of the day, this one from 45 yards out.
The Canes finished the game with 377 total yards to 331 for the Panthers. Kaaya threw for 261 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-35 passing to go with his rushing score. Yearby came up just shy of 100 rushing yards, gaining 99 on 22 carries.
The Canes find out which bowl game they will play in on Dec. 6.