Pitt Falls Apart Late At Wake Forest To Snatch Defeat From Jaws of Victory

Pitt only trailed for 7 seconds of the game on Saturday, but make no mistake — the seeds of the Panthers’ ugly loss at Wake Forest on Saturday had been sown long before third-string Wake Forest QB Santino Marucci found Cameron Hite for the go-ahead touchdown.

Pitt got a huge win last week at home over Louisville, the Panthers’ first win over an FBS opponent this season. It was the first start for quarterback Christian Veilleux, and while he wasn’t perfect, he did a solid enough job that there was confidence he’d lead them to another win. And he completed 7 of his first 8 passes at Wake, including one for a touchdown.

Wake was coming into the game losers of three in a row and on a third-string quarterback in Marucci without a lot to feel good about. Wake was blown out by Georgia Tech at home for its first loss, then fell in a close-in-score-only game at Clemson 17-12 before proceeding to get blown out by a bad Virginia Tech team on the road.

Pitt came in the far more confident team, and it showed. Until it didn’t.

Pitt out-gained Wake 116-24 in the first quarter, had the ball for nearly 12 minutes to just 3 for Wake and eight first downs to none for the Demon Deacons. But it led just 7-0.

The game was 7-7 at the half, but Pitt’s yards per play dipped to 2.8 in the second quarter. The way both teams had been playing on offense, it was unclear whether either would score again.

The teams exchanged punts and three-and-outs and all-around bad offensive possessions before Marucci threw a interception at the Pitt 34-yard line, setting up a Pitt field goal to put the Panthers up 10-7 with 13:07 to go.

That felt like it could be enough. Wake punted again on its next drive, and Pitt got across midfield before its next drive stalled. Wake got it back with 6:05 to go and finally put a touchdown drive together, going up 14-10 with 3:02 remaining.

But Pitt quarterback Christian Veilleux, only in his second start, drove the Panthers down the field and found Bub Means for a 22-yard score with 1:30 to go.

Pitt’s odds went up even more after it intercepted Marucci again once Wake had driven to Pitt’s 37-yard line with a minute left. But Donovan McMillon got back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after the interception and pushed the Panthers back from their own 28-yard line to their own 7.

It seemed like Pitt would overcome even that, as long as the Panthers could keep the football. Pitt ran it up the middle twice for a total of two yards. On 3rd and 8, Veilleux kept it and slid for what looked to be a first down — except he had started his slide too early. And on their own 16-yard line facing a 4th and 1, Pitt punted.

And to add to the string of mistakes, it was a bad punt by Caleb Junko — just 32 yards.

Wake’s drive started near midfield almost solely because of the multiple miscues. Marucci converted a 3rd and 11 and a 4th and 1 with pass plays of 10 and 24 yards, respectively, and then found Hite yet again for a 15-yard touchdown with just seven seconds left.

Both teams have looked like shadows of their former selves this season, but this loss will especially sting for Pitt as a win was in its grasp, and that win was a chance to change the momentum of their season.