EAST HARTFORD -- Well, that was exciting. UConn coach Randy Edsall answered a controversial Pittsburgh touchdown late in the fourth quarter with an intriguing call of his own, and it secured a 30-28 win over the Panthers before 35,391 at Rentschler Field Thursday night.
Pitt (5-4, 3-1) was the Big East's best to this point and its lone undefeated team. UConn improves to 5-4 and 2-2 in the conference.
On a fourth-and-1 from the UConn 19 with 2:50 left, Edsall called timeout and decided to go for it deep in his own end.
Jordan Todman, who blew up the Pitt defense for a career-high 222 yards on 37 carries, gained 4 - and proceeded to run out the final four minutes to preserve a huge win for the Huskies.
"When you have confidence in your offensive line and the running back, it makes the decision easier," Edsall said. "I just wanted us to control our own destiny.
"I think I said, 'Defense, do you think you can stop them?' And before they could answer, I said, 'We're going for it.' With what was on the line, I just wanted to control our own destiny."
Jon Baldwin's 20-yard catch in the corner of the end zone with 4:35 left - he was ruled out of bounds on the field but the call was reversed - had pulled Pitt to 30-28 before UConn turned to Todman to put it away.
"I had a lot of confidence in our offensive line that they would get a good push and I'd just lean forward," Todman said of the fourth-and-1 play. "I would have never thought of punting - just let's run it, get it and put it away."
Dion Lewis led Pitt on the ground with 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13 carries. Quarterback Tino Sunseri was 20 of 28 for 220 yards, one TD and two interceptions.
Pitt had 143 yards on the ground to UConn's 249.
"Their offensive line was blocking us; they pushed us around to be quite honest," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.
UConn QB Zach Frazer, who left the game briefly with an injury, was 9 of 20 for 100 yards and two TDs.
The Panthers definitely gave the Huskies an early Christmas present.
Ray Graham (16 carries, 75 yards, TD) fumbled the kickoff after the Huskies went ahead by two on Dave Teggart's 25-yard field goal. Two plays later, Frazer found Isiah Moore for a 14-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The Huskies led 30-21 with 6:19 left.
Teggart's third field goal, with 7:07 left, had made it 23-21.
The eight-play, 52-yard drive was buoyed by a 21-yard run by Todman.
Frazer lay on the ground after an incompletion and a hit and was escorted off the field early in the fourth. Redshirt freshman Mike Box replaced him, ran for 8 yards and was leveled at the end of the run by Dom DeCicco.
But Box, who sustained a concussion at Louisville Oct. 23 and was just cleared to play this week, bounced right back up. Frazer, who had the wind knocked out of him, returned on the Huskies' next series with 10:16 to go in the game.
After Graham's 5-yard touchdown run gave Pitt a 21-13 lead with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, Nick Williams started the Huskies' comeback by returning the ensuing kickoff 95 yards and the Huskies were within 21-20 entering the fourth quarter after a Teggart extra point.
"The special teams today came up huge," Edsall said. "We had lost some momentum there and Nick Williams returned for that touchdown."
With 5:27 left in the third quarter, Pitt put points on the board - the first time since scoring the game's opening touchdown - to take a 14-13 lead.
It was Lewis then and Lewis in third. He scored from a yard out to complete a six-play, 75-yard drive with the key playing being a 42-yard hookup between Sunseri and Baldwin. It was a big-time play down the middle of the field over Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
The Huskies extended their three-point halftime lead when Teggart connected from 39 yards for a 13-7 edge with 10:48 to go in the third.
The Huskies appeared to be driving for seven. Operating from their 22, Todman ripped off a 22-yard run and defensive end Greg Romeus, in his first game back since early-season back surgery, was whistled for a personal foul after the play.
The Huskies were at the Pitt 34 but could get no further than the 22 before Teggart came on.
UConn had a 10-7 lead at halftime but it looked like it was going to add to it after Sunseri was picked off a second time.
Dwayne Gratz made a nice play on the ball and went up high with the Panthers' 6-foot-5 Baldwin.
Gratz returned the interception 37 yards to the Pitt 49 with 2:23 to go in the half, but UConn went three-and-out.
UConn rushed for 114 yards on 21 carries in the half. Todman had 102 on 16 carries.
Pitt was 5 of 8 on third downs in the first half but the UConn defense was playing with confidence, though the pressure on Sunseri was minimal. The first-year starter was making good decisions but the bad ones were glaring.
The Panthers were gunning to break a 7-7 tie and converted on three consecutive first downs.
But it was a second-down play that cost the Panthers when Jerome Junior nabbed a Sunseri pass and returned it 17 yards to the Pitt 26.
The Huskies got points, a 46-yard field goal by Teggart, from the turnover and built a 10-7 advantage with 13:37 left in the half.
UConn tied the score at 7 - the answer to the Panthers' game-opening score - when Kashif Moore hauled in a 36-yard TD pass from Frazer. The drive lasted 11 plays and covered 83 yards in a little over five minutes. The key play was Todman's 10-yard run on a fourth-and-1 at the Pitt 46.
The Panthers went ahead 7-0 on Lewis' 4-yard TD run with 12:59 left in the first quarter. He took a dump pass 31 yards just before that play.
That score came thanks to a turnover. Pitt won the toss and deferred to the second half so the Huskies got the first opportunity to score, and they looked to a little trickery to start things.
UConn's flea-flicker attempt was thwarted when Greg Williams got a shot on Todman as he was flipping the ball back to Frazer, and the ball hit the ground. Frazer picked it up and threw, but Jarred Holley picked it off at the UConn 48.
"Now we're back in the [Big East] race and we're excited for it," Todman said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times