Tech stings No. 24 Pitt in Key’s debut

Redshirt sophomore D’Quan Douse delivers a hit on Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis. The defense swarmed Pitt to the tune of three turnovers and two sacks as Tech upset the Panthers. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

Following one of the most eventful weeks in Tech Athletics’ history, the Jackets stormed into Pittsburgh with something to prove. As a 21.5 point underdog, interim head coach Brent Key put the headset on as just the fifth alumnus to ever lead the Jackets into a game and took the headset off with Tech’s first road win over a ranked team since 2016. The final score, 26-21, does not reflect just how emphatic and dominant this win was. 

Tech won the opening coin toss and, electing to receive, took the ball straight down the field, behind an incredible 33 yard one-handed grab from senior receiver E.J. Jenkins but eventually stalled in Pittsburgh territory. Sophomore kicker Gavin Stewart trotted on to finish off the drive and put an end to recent kicking woes with a 37-yard field goal to put Tech up 3-0. The defense took the field and largely foreshadowed what the rest of the night would be for the Panthers. Shutting down three straight pass plays, the Jackets forced a Pitt three and out, putting sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims and the offense back on the field. 

Pitt responded by forcing a Tech three and out, which started an exchange of punts between the two teams until Pitt mounted a drive midway through the second quarter. Starting at their own 38, the Panthers took the ball down to Tech’s 33 where, on fourth and 4, the defense rose up and forced a Pitt turnover on downs. The Jackets wasted no time in snatching back momentum as Sims scampered for 42 yards and had the offense threatening right away on Pitt’s 25. However, the drive stalled again in the red zone and Stewart came on to hit another field goal, putting the lead at 6-0 Tech with just under three minutes left in the half. 

The Panthers would not be shut out that easily though, as they mounted a 75-yard drive that ended in the endzone, making it 7-6 Pitt. Tech got the ball back with a minute to go in the half but was unable to find a first down, taking it to halftime at 7-6 in the Panthers’ favor. 

Tech dominated the first half despite being down. The Jacket defense had to keep getting stops, With senior linebacker Charlie Thomas now in the game, who had to sit out the first half for a targeting penalty in the second half the week before against UCF, the team had their statistical leader. The offense had to find ways to get in the endzone; the production was there, but Tech faltered in the red zone, leaving with three points. 

Tech kicked off to Pitt to start the second half and the Panthers began moving the ball right away with three straight run plays that gashed the Tech defense for 20 yards. Pitt continued to move down the field until, at the Tech 36, junior defensive back Jaylon King knocked the ball loose. Thomas scooped it up and ran all the way to the Pitt 17. 

Having set the tone for the second half, the defense put the offense in the red zone for their first drive, but the red zone woes continued and the drive stalled. Stewart once again came on to put it through the uprights, hoisting Tech up for good at 9-7. A couple of punts ensued, but Thomas snatched huge momentum for Tech with an interception in Pittsburgh territory, giving the offense the ball at the Pitt 49. 

Tech went into the fourth quarter up 9-7 on Pitt’s side of the field with a chance to go up two scores. Sims led the offense into the red zone but once again stalled, having Stewart cash in his fourth field goal to put Tech up 12-7.

On the first play of the ensuing Pitt possession, senior linebacker Ayinde Eley punched the ball out of the Pitt running back’s arms and the Jackets swarmed the ball, forcing their third takeaway of the half and putting Tech on the Pittsburgh 34. This time the offense would not be denied as Sims stepped up in the pocket to drop a 21 yard throw to E.J. Jenkins in the left corner of the endzone, giving the Jackets a comfortable 19-7 lead with just over ten minutes to go. 

The defense rose up and stuffed Pitt, giving Tech the ball back with a chance to ice the game. Wasting no time, senior running back Hassan Hall broke off a pair of big runs, totaling 42 yards, to put the Jackets at the Pitt 18. Racing down to the one-yard line with a chance to put the game away, Tech was turned away on fourth down and gave the Panthers the ball back empty handed. 

With under four minutes to play, it was crunch time for Pitt. Mounting a nine-play, 99 yard drive, the Panthers cashed in a score to close the lead to 19-14. 

Tech immediately responded as Hall bounced off a would-be tackler to take it 63 yards down the sideline to the Pitt 10. The Jackets would not be denied as Sims dashed into the endzone two plays later to all but seal it at 26-14 with just over a minute left. Pitt made a last ditch effort, scoring with 16 seconds remaining to push it to 26-21, but with Tech recovering the onside kick, Sims got to punctuate an amazing win with a kneel down. 

The Jackets left the field victorious versus Pittsburgh for the first time since 2017 and moved to 2-3 on the season and 1-1 in ACC play. 

In a bounce back performance against a ranked squad, the Jacket defense forced three turnovers, five tackles for loss including two sacks and twelve quarterback hurries. Hassan Hall recorded 157 rushing yards, an amazing 7.85 yards per carry, leading the way for the team’s 232 rushing yards. 

There is much to look forward to with homecoming against the Duke Blue Devils (4-1, 1-0 ACC) as Tech brings a lot of momentum into the week and a new grit with Coach Key leading the charge as he seeks to bring Tech its first consecutive wins since 2018.