The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

October 29, 2013

Panthers humbled by loss to Navy

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst wants his players to expect to win. The tricky part is making sure that confidence doesn’t morph into overconfidence.

Too late, apparently.

Several Pittsburgh players admitted they took Navy lightly before a 24-21 loss to the Midshipmen on Saturday, telling reporters they figured the Panthers would pull away for a victory. Instead, Pitt (4-3) collapsed as Navy scored 10 points in the final 4 minutes, including the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Though Chryst didn’t get the sense his players were overlooking the Midshipmen, if they did he has no doubt on who to blame.

“That’s on me,” Chryst said. “I’ve got to do a better job.”

So do the guys on the field. Though Navy is hardly a pushover, the Panthers were favored by a touchdown. Pitt did nearly everything right in the first half, controlling the clock for over 22 minutes and keeping the service academy’s triple-option offense standing on the sideline.

A 13-7 halftime lead seemed to feel bigger. While defensive back Ray Vinopal didn’t hear any of the guys in his group talking about the game being over, he’s hardly surprised some of his teammates figured a move to three games over .500 was all but in the bag.

“I’m sure there was a bit of that on the team,” Vinopal said. “I try constantly to remind the locker room that’s not the case with any game ... You’ve got to respect the game. You’ve got to respect the opponent and you’ve got to win the ones you’re supposed to win. That’s the sign of a good team.”

Something the Panthers insist they are, even if they don’t always play like one. Chryst allowed there’s still a bit of immaturity at some spots on the roster. Considering the Panthers have already played a dozen true freshmen and feature a lineup littered with first-year starters, he’s not wrong either.

That inexperience, however, goes deeper than just his players. Chryst is still learning in his second year as a head coach. While there have been significant strides made by the staff to develop some cohesiveness and foster a culture of winning, Chryst remains a work in progress.

Pitt is just 1-4 in games decided by eight points or less under Chryst. The lone win came last month when the Panthers held off a furious rally to edge Duke. The upset by Navy looked more like losses to Syracuse and Notre Dame last year when Pitt let the chance to win a “50/50” game slip through their fingers.

Navy tied the game at 21 on a touchdown with 3:52 remaining. The Panthers went three-and-out and a poor punt by Matt Yoklic gave the Midshipmen the ball at midfield. The great field position meant Navy didn’t have to pass to move the ball. An 11-play drive – nine of them runs – followed, capped by Nick Sloan’s 30-yard field goal as the clock hit zeroes.

Chryst called one timeout in hopes of freezing Sloan but didn’t use his other two earlier in Navy’s drive in hopes of giving his team one last shot should the Midshipmen score.

Looking back, Chryst doesn’t have an issue with his clock management as much as his decision not to challenge a possible interception by Vinopal earlier in the game. Officials ruled Vinopal was out of bounds. Because every play is reviewed, Chryst assumed the game would be stopped so the replay booth could get another look.

It didn’t happen and now the Panthers must find a way to bounce back against surging Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-2 ACC). If it’s tight late, Chryst believes he’ll be in better shape to handle it. It’s the least he can do for his team.

“It’d be pretty hypocritical to ask the players to get better and then I’m not,” he said. “I think we do need to learn how to win.”

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