SYRACUSE, New York — Jay Bromley shook his head in dismay. Another game had slipped away from the Syracuse Orange.
Isaac Bennett scored on a 5-yard run on the final play of the third quarter, and Pitt held off Syracuse 17-16 on Saturday in a game with a lot on the line for both teams.
Both needed a victory to become eligible for the postseason, and Pitt (6-5, 3-4 ACC) got the job done.
Syracuse (5-6, 3-4) finishes its regular season next week at home against Boston College.
"We've got one shot to go to a bowl game," Bromley said. "We can't go into this game thinking that we are a good team. We have to practice better, we have to play better to win. Period.
"We can't just keep saying, 'Oh, we killed ourselves.' Stop shooting yourself in the foot. Put away the gun," Bromley said. "We can't keep doing that and expect to come out victorious. It gets frustrating when you get so close."
Both defenses pitched a shutout in the final quarter and Syracuse had one last chance in the final minute.
Syracuse had one last chance at victory in the final minute, but when the Orange lined up for a 53-yard field goal attempt on a fourth-and-8 play, Pitt called a timeout just as the ball was snapped on what was going to be a fake. Terrel Hunt's pass fell incomplete when play resumed and the Panthers began celebrating.
"We had it in our hands and we let it slip away," Bromley said. "We couldn't get the job done."
Syracuse had gained a 16-10 lead with 6:25 left in the third when Hunt combined with Alvin Cornelius III for a 42-yard score on a third-and-15 play, and it was spectacular. Hunt, who misfired on five long passes in his previous Carrier Dome start three weeks ago, laid out a long pass down the right sideline and Cornelius, a redshirt freshman, made a fingertip grab as he tumbled into the end zone for his first career score.
Still, Hunt misfired several more times on long passes, none more critical than one just before halftime with Pitt nursing a 10-6 lead.
Pitt's Kevin Weatherspoon fumbled a punt and Ritchy Desir recovered for the Orange at the Pitt 24 in the final minute, but Syracuse had to settle for Ryan Norton's 41-yard field goal after Hunt's pass to Durell Eskridge in the left corner of the end zone was ruled out of bounds.
"I feel like I made the catch," said Eskridge, who played wideout in high school but starts at free safety for the Orange. "I kind of bobbled it a little bit at the end, but I feel like I brought it in. The officials made the call and we had to live with it."
"We're still hungry," Hunt said. "Right now, we're a little bruised."
Pitt's Aaron Donald, one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy and the only defensive player on the list, had another standout game with 3.5 tackles for a loss. It was his big hands, though, that spelled the difference in the critical win. He blocked his first kick of the season after the Orange had scored on their first possession. That was one point the Orange never got back.
"We've been watching film all week," Donald said. "We pushed them back. I just got my hand on it. We did this as a team. A lot of guys made plays, not just me."
The ACC has agreements to send at least eight — and as many as 10 — of its members to bowl games if they qualify, and 10 already have.
"Frustrating? Hell, yeah," first-year Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "I want to put my hand through a wall right now. But that's the way life goes. We have to foster that frustration and turn it into motivation and go find a way to get this victory against Boston College. We're not going to use excuses. We've got to fight."
The Panthers won it with time winding down in the third period as Tom Savage directed a nine-play, 88-yard scoring drive. After taking a hard hit from blitzing linebacker Marquis Spruill, Savage, who used quick drops and short passes all game to thwart the Syracuse defense, hit tight end J.P. Holtz for 16 yards on third down.
After the ball was moved another 15 yards to the Syracuse 43 after an unsportsmanlike conduct was whistled against the Orange, Savage hit Holtz again for 11 yards on the right side and Manasseh Garner caught two more passes for 27 yards to set up Bennett's run. Pitt converted an impressive 9 of 17 third-down plays against what had been the sixth-best third-down defense in the nation.
"Just get the ball out," said Savage, who was 28 of 41 for 218 yards and a touchdown to Garner late in the second quarter. "They're a physical team and they blitz a lot, so just get the ball in somebody's hands and see if they can make a play."
The Orange squandered a chance to regain the lead after Luke Arciniega intercepted Savage's deflected pass at midfield early in the fourth. Despite help from a personal foul against Pitt, the Syracuse drive stalled and Norton missed right.
For a game that started as if it might be a romp for the Orange against a team that has struggled to find consistency, Donald's big paw helped change the outcome.
"You talk about a big play, and that was the first one," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "Guys were mentally tough."