PITTSBURGH - Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster compared previously winless Pittsburgh to a wounded animal last week.
Seems like an appropriate analogy for the feisty Panthers, who came out fighting Saturday at Heinz Field and handed the 13th-ranked Hokies an improbable 35-17 defeat.
Pittsburgh (1-2), set to join the ACC next season, rolled to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and held on to score its first victory for first-year head coach Paul Chryst.
“I'm very proud of the team,” Chryst said. “I loved the way they competed.”
The Panthers, who outgained the Hokies, 537-324, have won four consecutive games against Virginia Tech. The Hokies were ranked in the top 15 all four times.
Pittsburgh senior quarterback Tino Sunseri completed 19-of-28 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns, and senior tailback Ray Graham scored three touchdowns, two of them on the ground.
Wide receiver Mike Shanahan had five catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Tailback Rushel Shell rushed for 157 yards on 23 carries.
“No disrespect to VT,” Graham said. “We're only going to stop ourselves. We have a good scheme on the offensive side and we dialed it up right, and I think we can do a good job with our offense playing against any defense.
”It's just about preparing right and game-planning right.“
The Panthers forced four turnovers, including a career-high three interceptions by Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. Thomas completed 14-of-31 passes for 265 yards.
”They played good defense,“ Thomas said. ”You gotta give them all the credit.“
The Hokies showed some life early in the third quarter on Kyshoen Jarrett's 94-yard punt return touchdown. He made his way to the right sideline and cut back inside after a massive block by Ronny Vandyke that took out two Pittsburgh players.
Jarrett's punt return was the second-longest in school history, behind Frank Loria's 95-yard return against Miami in 1965.
Pittsburgh answered with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Graham with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter. The Hokies had the Panthers stopped on the drive when linebacker Bruce Taylor dropped Sunseri for a loss on third-and-1, but Taylor was whistled for a personal foul penalty after slamming Sunseri to the ground.
”I was under the impression that once they were a runner I go till the whistle, and I didn't hear a whistle, and he was still trying to get forward, so I'm trying to get him down,“ Taylor said.
”I didn't try to overly slam him extra hard or anything like that.“
Virginia Tech reached the end zone with 3:30 left in the third quarter on Marcus Davis' 85-yard catch and run. He reeled in Thomas' pass at Virginia Tech's 25-yard line, made cornerback Lafayette Pitts miss a and ran the rest of the way.
But Pittsburgh came back with a time-consuming drive and served up the final blow on Sunseri's six-yard touchdown pass to Shanahan with 5:33 left.
Virginia Tech trailed, 21-3, at halftime. The Hokies turned the ball over on four of their first six possessions and couldn't stop the Panthers, who gained 305 yards in the first half.
Pitt scored touchdowns on three of its first five possessions and could have had a bigger lead had Kevin Harper not missed two field goal attempts from inside 36 yards.
Pittsburgh didn't lead in either of its first two games, but it wasted little time in getting on the board against the Hokies. The Panthers drove 75 yards in six plays and took a 7-0 lead on Graham's 12-yard touchdown run with 12:17 remaining in the first quarter.
Virginia Tech got to the Pitt 25 on the following drive, but Thomas' pass deflected off of Davis' hands and into the mitts of strong safety Jarred Holley.
The Panthers scored again a short time later. Sunseri completed a 40-yard pass to Shanahan and then hooked up with wide receiver Devin Street on a 13-yard touchdown a couple of plays later.
Early in the second quarter, Virginia Tech redshirt freshman tailback Michael Holmes was stripped of the ball by Pitt defensive end Devin Cook and linebacker Eric Williams recovered at the Hokies' 10-yard line. The Panthers scored on Graham's 5-yard run two plays later to pull ahead. 21-0.
”I give all the credit to Pitt,“ Davis said. ”Offensively, defensively, they executed. They did what they had to do. We just have to be better on both sides of the ball.“
NOTES: Defensive end Devin Cook and linebacker Manny Williams made their first career starts for Pittsburgh. … Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller sustained a bruised shoulder in the first half and did not return. … Rushel Shell became the first Pitt freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Dion Lewis had 159 against North Carolina in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl. … Hokies' left guard David Wang sprained his left ankle in the third quarter and did not return.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun