KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- No. 24 Tennessee survives an overtime thriller after defeating No. 17 Pitt in the second annual “Johnny Majors Classic.”
Josh Heupel picked up his second-ranked win as the Volunteers’ head football coach and survived the first top-25 match-up.
Tennessee kicked off the game with a shaky start. The Vols went three-and-out in 26 seconds on their opening drive.
The Vols’ defense benefited from a dropped pass but put enough pressure on Kedon Slovis to hold Pitt to a 30-yard field goal, Pitt leads 3-0.
Tennessee’s second drive ended with another three-and-out after continued pressure from Pitt’s defensive front holding UT to a mere 2 yards following 2 drives.
It only took one player during Pitt’s second drive of the game to take a 10-0 lead over Tennessee. Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda broke up the middle 76 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and Tennessee was forced to recover from an early gut punch.
The Vols traded a blow at the 4:06 mark in the first quarter. Safety Trevon Flowers picked off Slovis’ pass in the back of the end zone providing a needed momentum shift for the Vols.
Tennessee capitalized on the opportunity. Hooker orchestrated an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a Jabari Small touchdown. Kicker Chase McGrath cleared the extra point attempt and Tennessee cut the deficit to 10-7.
The Vols have scored a touchdown in the first quarter under head coach Josh Heupel.
The Vols took control in the second quarter outscoring the Panthers 17-7.
Pitt opened the second 15-minute period with a monster pitch and catch from Slovis to tight end Gavin Bartholomew who hurdled over a Tennessee defender en route to a 57-yard touchdown. Ben Sauls drilled the extra point to give Pitt a 17-7 lead.
Tennessee answered after Hooker connected with USC transfer wide receiver Bru McCoy for his first touchdown in orange and white. McGrath went (stats) to cut the Vols deficit, 17-14.
Tennessee’s defense continued to step up and create momentum-changing plays. Georgia Tech transfer defensive back Wesley Walker recorded his first career sack and forced Pitt to turn it over on downs. The Vols turned the sack into a score. Hooker hit Cedric Tillman with a 61-yard bomb to set up Small for his second rushing touchdown (of the first half).
After recording 0 sacks against Ball State, the Vols’ defense continued to get after the quarterback. Knoxville Catholic alum Tyler Baron sacked Slovis and forced a fumble promptly recovered by De’Shawn Rucker at the 0:14 mark. The Vols quickly went to work, capping off their fourth drive of the quarter with a 37-yard field goal from McGrath to take a 24-17 lead heading into the locker rooms.
It was a scoreless third quarter in which Tennessee struggled, a theme that carried over from last season. Pitt opened the second half without its starting quarterback Kedon Slovis, leaving backup Nick Patti to lead the Panter’s offense.
The Vols’ defense held Pitt to a 46-yard field goal attempt that Sauls missed keeping the score at 24-17.
Tennessee’s first drive of the quarter was plagued by a sequence that started with Hooker getting sacked, followed by a pass interference penalty on Princeton Fant, and an incomplete pass from Hooker to Tillman after getting pressured. The drive ended in a punt for Tennessee.
The Vols’ defense forced Pitt to punt the ball away but UT’s offense continued to stall forcing another punt that was blocked by P.J. O’Brien. Pitt’s offense could only muster up another field goal attempt that was no good, leaving the score locked.
Jaylen Wright fumbled the ball on Tennesse’s next ensuing drive halting any momentum gained. Pitt strung together a drive consisting of 12 plays that ended in a sack by Byron Young. The Panthers were once again forced to settle for a field goal. Sauls sailed a 35-yard attempt through the uprights, cutting the deficit 20-24 to open the fourth quarter.
Tennessee’s offense continued to stall into the fourth quarter. Tennesse’s first drive of the quarter ended in a 51-yard field goal from McGrath, his longest made field goal in two seasons after Hooker was sacked on 3rd and 15.
The Vols’ defense forced a battered Pitt offense to a three-and-out, however, Flowers muffed the punt and the Panthers recovered it at Tennessee’s 39. Pitt’s ensuing drive ended in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Patti to Jared Wayne. The point after attempt was good to tie the game at 27 all.
The Vols opened overtime with a quick strike. Hooker rushed for a 7-yard gain. Hooker then rushed for 18-yards into the end zone but a holding penalty from left tackle Gerald Mincey nullified the touchdown. Hooker erased the hiccup with a 28-yard strike to Tillman in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. McGrath remained automatic and nailed the extra point to take a 34-27 lead over the Panthers.
Flowers sealed the deal with a huge sack for a 15-yard loss and Tennessee picked up its first-ever win over Pitt and second-ranked win of the Josh Heupel Era.
Hooker completed 27-42 passes for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also rushing for 27 yards on 15 carries. The signal-callers top target was Tillman. The wideout was targeted 18 times and caught 9 passes for 162 yards and 1 touchdown including the game-winner.