MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) - Duke Johnson had a moment to remember, and Miami had a game to forget.
A fitting epitaph, perhaps, for a disappointing regular-season for the Hurricanes.
Johnson scored twice and passed Ottis Anderson to become Miami’s all-time leading rusher, Brad Kaaya threw for 296 yards and two scores, but the Hurricanes never led and wound up falling to Pittsburgh 35-23 on Saturday night - their third straight loss to close out the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
“Satisfying and disappointing,” Johnson said. “When you reach a milestone like that, you want to come out with a victory in that game.”
Johnson thanked everyone from support staff to his teammates, which made his postgame remarks sound a bit like a farewell. But he insisted afterward that he has made no decision on whether to skip his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
Phillip Dorsett caught a 51-yard touchdown pass and became the seventh player with 2,000 receiving yards for the Hurricanes (6-6, 3-5), who lost consecutive home games for the first time since October 2012.
“We need to perform better, and that’s my responsibility,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “We are what our record is, period. I’m disappointed.”
Johnson’s record-setting carry came just 23 seconds into the third quarter, which was received by an ovation and someone marking the game ball to present him as a keepsake.
In the stands, Cassandra Prophet-Mitchell jumped from her seat when the play started and started sobbing tears of joy when it was over, knowing the record finally belonged to her son.
“She gets the ball,” Johnson said.
Johnson wasn’t the only record-setting runner on the field Saturday night.
Not only did Pitt’s James Conner score twice to help ensure that the Panthers (6-6, 4-4) become bowl-eligible for the seventh straight year, but he broke three of the school’s longest-standing records - all of them set by Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett in 1976, the year he won the Heisman Trophy and led his team to the national championship.
Not bad for a guy who some figured would miss the game because of a hip injury.
“It was all worth it,” Conner said.
Conner now holds the Pitt single-season marks for rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points after rushing for his 23rd and 24th scores of the year.
“It’s a heck of a record because of who did it,” Panthers coach Paul Chryst said.
Quarterback Chris Voytik threw for a score and ran for another for Pitt, after needing intravenous fluids to combat a virus that struck him out of nowhere.
“I’ve probably never been that sick in one night,” Voytik said. “It was so unfortunate it happened before the game. It makes this time right now more sweeter to know that I can overcome something like that.”
Pitt never trailed, scoring touchdowns on three of its first four possessions.
Miami got within 21-20 when Johnson caught a 17-yard pass from Kaaya for a score early in the third quarter, but Tyler Boyd’s 53-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set the Panthers up for a five-play, 43-yard drive capped by Chris James’ 15-yard touchdown run.
And aided by a pair of third-down penalties, Pittsburgh - which lost six out of seven games in one stretch this season, including a home defeat to Akron - put a stranglehold on the game early in the fourth.
A pass interference call on Miami’s Artie Burns nullified a third-down incompletion from the Miami 20, and stopping Conner on third-and-goal from the 1 was wiped out by someone jumping into the neutral zone before the snap. Eventually, Voytik scored on fourth-and-inches by leaping over a pile at the goal line and the Panthers had a 35-23 lead.
That sent many in the Hurricane crowd to the exits, and they didn’t miss much in the final 13 minutes.
Boyd caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown for Pitt, which had lost its last eight games against the Hurricanes since 1997. But led by a sore Conner and ailing Voytik, the Panthers’ season lives on.
“That let you know how much we wanted this,” Boyd said. “It was all or nothing. If we don’t win, we sit around watching other people playing, and we didn’t want to do that.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.