By WILL GRAVES
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PITTSBURGH – Stacy Coley hauled in a pair of touchdown passes and zig-zagged 73 yards on an end around for another score as Miami kept its slim hopes for a spot in the ACC title game alive with a 41-31 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday.
Allen Hurns caught nine passes for 173 yards for the Hurricanes (9-3, 5-3 ACC), who raced to a quick 14-point lead and had no real trouble with the Panthers (6-6, 3-5).
Isaac Bennett ran for 141 yards and a score for Pitt but the Panthers were never really in it.
Miami assured itself of its first nine-win season since 2009 with the victory. The Hurricanes need losses by Duke and Virginia Tech today to earn a rematch with No. 2 Florida State in the title game in Charlotte Dec. 7.
Stephen Morris completed 17 of 28 passes for 296 yards and three scores for Miami, which has won eight straight against the Panthers and 16 of the last 17 meetings. Most of those wins came when the teams were still rivals in the Big East.
Switching conferences, however, has done little to change the result.
The Panthers have shown signs of progress under second-year coach Paul Chryst, but the Hurricanes showed the gap between the Panthers and the ACC elite will take some time to close.
Coley provided the glaring evidence.
He scored twice in the game’s first 3:30 on passes from Morris after Pitt miscues but gave the Hurricanes control for good with his remarkable
73-yard journey through the Panther defense late in the first half. The Panthers had closed to 24-10 on a 36-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt when Coley ran in motion and took a handoff from Morris.
The freshman slipped through a pair of tackles to get into the secondary, ran through another after crossing midfield then veered left to the sideline, where he slowed down as Pitt’s Shakir Soto gave chase. Coley found just enough juice to sprint into the end zone to make it 31-10 with 1:34 left in the half.
Coley laid on the ground for several minutes before making his way to the locker room for oxygen. The run might have left Coley gassed, but the Panthers were the ones who ended up deflated.
Pitt’s only real surge came when a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tom Savage to Rachid Ibrahim pulled the Panthers within 34-24 with 7:36 left.
Rather than nurse the lead, Miami attacked. Morris deftly guided a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a
5-yard flip to Asante Cleveland.
The win took some of the sting out of a late season swoon. Miami ended a three-game losing streak last week against Virginia then backed it up by looking very much like the dominant force it was during a 7-0 start.
Hurns continued one of greatest seasons by a Miami receiver in school history by pulling in a 66-yard pass to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards. Hurns has 1,138 yards receiving to put Leonard Hankerson’s 1,156-yard effort in 2010 in serious jeopardy.
The Panthers, tepidly trying to avoid their third straight 6-6 finish, didn’t exactly put up a fight. Savage completed 24 of 43 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns against one interception while freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught nine passes for 98 yards and a score.
Pitt believed a frigid afternoon would make the Hurricanes uncomfortable, but the Panthers were the ones who seemed unsettled as Miami needed less than 4 minutes to take a two-touchdown lead.
Garrett Kidd jumped on a fumble by Pitt’s Lafayette Pitts on the opening kickoff and Morris needed just three plays to hit Coley for a 32-yard catch and run to put Miami in front 7-0.
The Panthers went nowhere on their next drive and when Tyriq McCord partially blocked Matt Yoklic’s punt the Hurricanes had the ball at the Pitt 42.
Morris and Coley needed only two plays to make it 14-0, as Coley turned a quick screen into a pair of missed tackles and a 34-yard sprint down the sideline for a score.
Bennett responded with a 45-yard touchdown run, but it was one of the few true defensive mistakes by the Hurricanes, whose ineptitude during the second half of the season cost them a shot at the national title and likely a spot in the ACC title game as well.
By WILL GRAVES
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