- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - James Conner’s constantly churning legs have spent the past two months trying to will enigmatic Pittsburgh into contention in the ACC.

When they finally tired on Saturday afternoon against No. 24 Duke, the Panthers’ chances of taking a significant step forward in 2014 likely went right along with them.

Kicker Chris Blewitt missed a 26-yard field goal that would have won it on the final play of regulation and Pitt’s defense yielded a pair of touchdowns in overtime and the Blue Devils escaped with a 51-48 victory.

Conner finished with a career-high 263 yards and three scores, but didn’t touch the ball in the second extra period.

The Panthers (4-5, 2-3) were forced to settle for a Blewitt field goal and Duke backup quarterback Thomas Sirk finished off Pitt with a 5-yard run that sent his teammates sprinting onto the field and the Panthers slinking to the locker room after their fifth loss in six games following a 3-0 start.

“Would have been a great opportunity to get back in the win column versus a good team who only had one loss,” Conner said. “Doesn’t feel too good.”

And it won’t look too good either. A week after fumbling it away six times in a 28-point loss to Georgia Tech, Pitt did nearly everything right.

The Panthers rolled up 594 yards, didn’t turn it over and controlled the ball for more than 41 minutes. They appeared poised to win after driving 71 yards in the final 2:56 to set up Blewitt. The Blue Devils called a pair of timeouts to make him think about it.

The snap was good. The kick, not so much. It hooked to the left giving Duke a second chance it didn’t let go to waste.

“I have a ton of faith in him,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said of Blewitt. “We’re going to need him again.”

The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, which ended with Conner plowing into the end zone from 14 yards to tie the game. He needed a minute to catch his breath after his 38th carry.

Chris James relieved Conner to start the second extra period, going nowhere on first down.

Conner ran onto the field on second down, but quarterback Chad Voytik opted to keep the ball on an option play. Voytik missed Tyler Boyd on third down, and Blewitt drilled a 43-yard field goal to give the Panthers the lead.

“Chris was going a good job of carrying the ball,” Conner said. “We’ve got to trust in everybody, so I was fine with that decision. It’s cool.”

Three snaps took the Blue Devils to the Pitt 5, and Sirk ended the game the same way he ended the first half, with a touchdown.

“I tried to remain calm, just because of the type of situation that it was,” Sirk said. “But I wanted to do my part, and getting a chance to win the game was big for me. And this was a big win for us.”

The Blue Devils stayed above the fray in the crowded ACC Coastal Division and dealt the reeling Panthers a significant blow.

Anthony Boone passed for 266 yards and three scores and added 47 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground for Duke. Jamison Crowder caught nine passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns to become the second-leading receiver in ACC history.

DeVon Edwards added a 99-yard kickoff return for Duke’s lone touchdown of the second half.

Still, the Blue Devils managed to extend the game to overtime and improved to 7-0 in their past seven games decided by a touchdown or less. Pitt is 1-3 in those games this season.

“It was a tough loss,” said Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz, who had two touchdown receptions. “Duke’s a great team and they found a way to beat us.”

Duke entered the game with the nation’s fifth-best scoring defense, allowing 15.14 points per game.

The Panthers needed less than 20 minutes to top that number during a back-and-forth first half that featured one punt, eight touchdowns and negligible tackling.

Still, for all of Pitt’s dominance the game was tied at 28 at the break when Sirk crammed into the end zone on the final play of the half. The Panthers limited Duke’s offense to a field goal in the second half, but Edwards’ third career kickoff return for a touchdown helped the Blue Devils extend it to overtime when Blewitt couldn’t deliver.

“We’ve got to find a way to get over the hump,” Chryst said. “It doesn’t always turn out the way you want it. We’ve got to finish the season out right.”

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