Catching up With College Football: Pitt wins ACC Championship

Written By Antonio Rossetti, Co-Sports Editor

Dec. 4, 2021 was the week of conference championships around college football. Some teams looked to punch their ticket to the college football playoff, and others were looking to find their way to a new year six bowl. The Pittsburgh Panthers were among the teams looking to make a new year six bowl.

Pitt played against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Charlotte, North Carolina for the ACC Championship. The Panthers came into the game with a 10-2 record, along with a 7-1 conference record. Their 10 regular-season wins marked their first time reaching the feat since 1981 and their first 10 total win season since 2009.

This was Pitt’s second time winning the coastal division and their first time winning that side of the division since 2018. The last time Pitt had won the coastal, they were defeated by Trevor Lawerence and the Clemson Tigers. This time around, the Panthers were back yet again and looked to claim the ACC title.

Pitt comes into the game coming off of a dominant performance against the Syracuse Orange, defeating them on the road at the Carrier Dome, 31-14. Heisman finalist and senior quarterback led the charge against the Orange, throwing for 209 yards, along with 4 touchdown passes.

The Demon Deacons entered this game with a 10-2 record, along with a 7-1 conference record. Wake Forest defeated the Boston College Eagles, 41-10, winning the Atlantic Division for the first time in program history.

The last time Pitt and Wake Forest faced each other was in 2018, with Pitt winning at Winston-Salem by a score of 34-13.

In Pitt’s opening drive, the team took no time to score. Pickett had a 58-yard touchdown run and did it in style. The senior QB faked a slide and after the Demon Deacon defense bit on the fake, Pickett took it to the house for six points.

Wake Forest responded quickly with a drive that only lasted a little under three minutes. They capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Sam Hartman to sophomore A.T. Perry. This tied the game, 7-7.

The Panthers would score on their next drive on a pass from Pickett to freshman Rodney Hammond, making it 14-7. Their drive only lasted a little over a minute, leading many to believe that this game would be a high-scoring contest.

Wake Forest would have the first drive that lasted over three minutes and capped it off with an 11-yard touchdown run for Hartman, tying the game, 14-14.

The Demon Deacons would get the first defensive stop of the game after a missed 49-yard field goal for Pitt sophomore kicker Sam Scarton. Wake Forest would capitalize on their next drive, taking the lead 21-14 after a 26-yard touchdown pass from Hartman to freshman Taylor Morin.

In the early stages of the second quarter, sophomore Jordan Addison had a punt return, spotting them at the Demon Deacon 32-yard line. The Panthers had a short drive ending with a Pickett 4-yard touchdown pass to junior Jared Wayne. This tied the game at 21-21.

At the end of the first half, Scarton kicked a 41-yard field goal, increasing the Pitt lead by three points, 24-21.

After a high-scoring first half, both offenses went cold with Pitt and Wake Forest being forced to punt on their first three possessions. Nevertheless, at the tail-end of the third quarter, junior Erick Hallett intercepted a Hartman pass, putting them in a spot to extend their lead.

Pitt would then have a 45-yard drive ending with a 12-yard touchdown run for sophomore Israel Abanikanda. This would increase their lead by 10 points, making it 31-21.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, junior AJ Woods intercepted a pass from Hartman, taking it to the Wake Forest 3-yard line. Woods showed off his high school track and field experience after returning the interception for 73 yards, which is the longest interception return in ACC Championship game history.

Abanikanda would then punch it in for six, with a 1-yard touchdown run two plays later. Pitt increased their lead by 17 with a score of 38-21.

The Demon Deacons offensive woes would continue. Hartman threw another interception two plays in on their first drive. This time, it was a pick-six for Hallett, which was his second interception of the game.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson pulled Hartman from the game. After this, Pitt had long drives, running the clock out. Pitt would go on to win by the final score of 45-21.

The Panthers ACC victory was their first ACC championship, and also the first time a Coastal division team won the prestigious title since 2010.

The Pitt offense was led by Pickett who completed 20 of 33 passes for 253 yards, along with 2 touchdown passes. Addison also had a solid game, catching 8 passes for 126 yards.

Nonetheless, the Panthers’ defense was the key factor in the Pitt victory. Despite a slow start, after a stiff hit from sophomore Calijah Kancey, Hartman was no longer in a groove and started forcing passes which led to four Pitt interceptions.

The defense sacked Hartman a total of five times, two of those coming from junior linebacker SirVocea Dennis. Pitt adjusted to the run-pass option, by sending more linebacker blitzes, rather than a corner blitz. Their pressure up the middle disrupted the Demon Deacon offense, preventing them from scoring for three straight quarters.

The team’s defense was led by Hallett, who had two interceptions, along with a pick-six. Woods and junior Marquis Williams would also tally interceptions.

This is the first time a Pitt team has won 11 since 1981 and looks to become the first Pitt team to win 12 games since 1976, where the Panthers won the National Championship. Pitt will play the Michigan State Spartans in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia on December 30.