PITTSBURGH — All the ingredients were there for a collapse. A fired head coach. Dashed expectations. A fan base equal parts angry and apathetic. A locker room in need of some guidance.
Larry Scott would have none of it. Neither would his resilient team.
Discarded in late October after Al Golden was fired, Scott and Miami responded with a nervy November. Friday's 29-24 win over Pittsburgh left the Hurricanes surging at a time of year in which they often sink instead.
"People know us for folding at the end of the season," wide receiver Rashawn Scott said. "We don't got time for that anymore."
Miami (8-4, 5-3 ACC) improved to 4-1 under Scott after racing to a 20-point halftime lead then holding on. Brad Kaaya threw for 261 yards and a touchdown and ran for another, Michael Badgley tied a school record with five field goals and Joseph Yearby ran for 99 yards as the Hurricanes survived when Pitt's last-gasp lateral was fumbled out of bounds as time expired.
Athletic director Blake James declined to get into specifics about the search for Golden's replacement or indicate whether Scott is a candidate, though James praised Scott for holding the program together when Golden was let go in October following a 58-0 home loss to Clemson.
"Credit to Larry for connecting with the guys," James said. "Those last five weeks, those guys have really bought in."
It was never more evident than in the finale. Miami attacked early, calling a flea flicker, a double reverse and twice going for it on fourth down. Kaaya converted the first into a 1-yard touchdown lunge and the second — on a fourth-and-inches at the Miami 31 — extended what became a 17-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Badgley's third field goal of the opening half and a 23-3 Miami lead.
"We just go all out," said Kaaya, who leapfrogged four players into fifth place on the school's all-time passing yardage list. "It's our last game of the season, we wanted to start early, start fast."
Nathan Peterman threw for a touchdown and ran for another and freshman Darrin Hall ran for 103 yards and a score for the Panthers (8-4, 6-2). Wide receiver Tyler Boyd finished with 117 total yards in perhaps his final game at Heinz Field but Pitt's resurgent fall under first-year coach Pat Narduzzi ended with an emotionally flat first half that put them in a hole they couldn't quite dig themselves out of.
"If we start slow again, we have to find a way to get a jumpstart," Narduzzi said. "I might have to bring my jumper cables or something."
The Hurricanes appeared in shambles at midseason when Golden's uneven tenure finally ended after the no-show against Clemson. Yet they have steadied themselves under Scott, feeding off their interim coach's aggressive approach. His tenure started with an eight-lateral (and referee abetted) miracle against Duke on Halloween and save for a misstep against North Carolina, Miami has played like the team picked to finish second in the Coastal Division over the summer.
"They did everything I asked them to do and more," said Larry Scott, who took a moment to compose himself. "You're happy to see that when they do buy in and they believe in each other and they play for the right reasons ... they're hard to beat."
Miami heads toward a bowl game — perhaps the Pinstripe Bowl in New York — with momentum. The Panthers, one of the ACC's biggest surprises, not so much.
Fresh off a nearly flawless four-touchdown performance in a victory over Louisville, Peterman was inaccurate at best and sloppy at worst. He tossed his first interception in conference play on Pitt's second offensive snap and struggled to get comfortable until it was too late.
Kaaya and the Hurricanes had no such issues. Miami scored on five of its six first-half possessions, with Kaaya hitting Rashawn Scott with a pretty 22-yard touchdown that made it 17-0 with 2:34 left in the first quarter. Pitt trailed at some point in six of its eight wins this season, but never by more than a touchdown. Unable to provide Peterman with protection or time to look downfield, the Panthers instead relied heavily on the running game.
It made for effective but slow going. Pitt's first drive of the second half took more than five minutes but ended when a pair of penalties turned a fourth-and-1 into a fourth-and-11 and a punt. While Hall broke loose for a 35-yard sprint with 3:52 to play in the third to pull Pitt within 23-10, Miami responded by methodically driving for another Badgley field goal.
Pitt rallied late, getting within five on a 5-yard scramble by Peterman with 2:32 to go. The Hurricanes recovered the onside kick and Pitt's shot at replicating Miami's magical finish at Duke didn't make it past the Pitt 33.
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