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Using Graham and Shell to chew up yardage and time, the Panthers controlled the ball for over 38 minutes and rolled up 537 yards against one of the better defenses in the country. Not bad for a team that looked lost at times against lesser foes.

“Those two losses were big for us,” wide receiver Devin Street said. “I think it was an eye-opener for us.”

Just like this one will be for the Hokies, though Beamer downplayed Pitt’s early season struggles, calling it the byproduct of having three different coaches in as many seasons.

The Panthers think they’ve finally found a keeper in Chryst, who has given the program a sense of calm. He insisted there was no panic in his team after such a horrific start.

He was right.

Instead, it was the Hokies who looked jittery during a nightmarish first half in which the Panthers built a 21-3 advantage behind tenacious running from Graham, a pair of interceptions by safety Jason Hendricks and a fumble by Virginia Tech running back deep in Hokie territory that set up an easy Pitt score.

Virginia Tech has won 211 games since Beamer took over in 1987, but none after trailing by three touchdowns.

The Hokies got within 21-10 in the third quarter following Kyshoen Jarrett’s 94-yard punt return for a score, but the Panthers responded with an expert toss from Sunseri to Graham, whose surgically repaired right knee appears just fine.

Again Virginia Tech responded with a big play, as Thomas hit Marcus Davis for an 85-yard catch-and-run to make it 28-17. And when the Hokies got the ball back at the Pitt 36 following a Sunseri interception early in the fourth quarter, it looked as if the Panthers were wobbling.

They weren’t.

Thomas was sacked on first down and followed it up with two straight incompletions. The Hokies punted and Pitt drove 88 yards in a crunching 15-play drive to put Virginia Tech away. At one point the Hokies had appeared to hold Pitt to a field goal, but an offside penalty on the kick gave Pitt a first down at the Virginia Tech 4 and Sunseri followed with a 4-yard toss to Mike Shanahan to put the Hokies away.

“I knew a lot of people had us counted out already,” Pitt linebacker Shane Gordon said. “But in our locker room we know we can do and we showed that.”