Pittsburgh, PA – Tino Sunseri threw three touchdown passes, Ray Graham scored three times and the Pittsburgh Panthers earned their first win with a 35-17 victory over the 13th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field.
The Panthers (1-2), coming off losses to FCS foe Youngstown State and Cincinnati to start the season, jumped out to a 21-0 lead Saturday and pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2005.
"A season is a journey," first-year Panthers head coach Paul Chryst said. "You can't get to one part of it without getting through others. ... We did what we needed to do and came out with the victory. Everything you go through builds you, and our guys responded today."
Sunseri threw for 283 yards with an interception on 19-of-28 efficiency, as the Panthers ended Virginia Tech's true road winning streak at 13 games.
Rushel Shell and Graham ran for 144 and 94 yards, respectively, for a Pitt ground game that outrushed the Hokies, 254-59. Graham ran for two scores and caught another.
Logan Thomas threw three interceptions and completed just 14-of-31 attempts for Virginia Tech (2-1), which had just 14 first downs to Pitt's 27. Thomas ended with 265 passing yards -- 85 coming on a TD pass to Marcus Davis -- and led an anemic running attack with 28 yards on seven carries.
The Panthers, after failing to come away with any takeaways in their first two games, forced four turnovers in a lopsided first half that saw with them bring a 21-3 lead into the locker room.
"They're strong, they're physical, they're fast, and they make you make mistakes," Thomas said of Pitt's defense. "They did that today and that's why they won the game."
The first of several big plays in the second half helped give the Hokies some momentum, as Kyshoen Jarrett, aided by a perfect block from Ronny Vandyke, returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes in.
After a second straight three-and-out by the Panthers, the Hokies moved into Pitt territory, only to give the ball back when Michael Holmes was stuffed for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the 35-yard line.
A Virginia Tech personal foul penalty on third down extended Pitt's next drive, which ended with Sunseri hitting a wide-open Graham on a wheel route out of the backfield for an 18-yard TD.
Davis answered immediately by taking a short pass 85 yards for a score with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter, and the Hokies took over at the Pitt 36- yard line after Antone Exum's diving interception on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Sunseri appeared to injure his leg on the play, but was back on the field after Pitt forced a three-and-out.
Limping, Sunseri guided a 15-play, 88-yard drive that shed nearly eight minutes off the game clock. An offsides penalty on a field goal attempt kept the march alive, and Mike Shanahan's six-yard reception in the back of the end zone with 5:33 remaining essentially sealed the outcome.
On the game's opening drive, Sunseri completed passes of 33 and 23 yards to reach the red zone, and Graham made a defender miss behind the line of scrimmage en route to a 12-yard touchdown run just 2:43 into the game.
It was Pitt's first lead of the season.
Thomas was intercepted in Pitt territory on two of Virginia Tech's first three possessions, and the Panthers made it 14-0 when Sunseri found Devin Street for a 13-yard touchdown with 3:19 left in the opening quarter.
Kevin Harper missed a 35-yard field goal after the Hokies' second turnover, but Holmes lost a fumble on his own 10-yard line the very next snap.
Two plays later, Graham bulled his way into the end zone for a 5-yard score early in the second quarter.
Midway through, a sack on third down deep in Pittsburgh's end brought out the kicking unit for Virginia Tech, and Cody Journell made a 32-yard kick to get the visitors on the board.
Virginia Tech still leads the all-time series between the former Big East rivals and soon-to-be ACC foes, 7-5, with all five of Pitt's wins coming against nationally-ranked squads ... Shanahan caught five passes for 111 yards ... Davis finished with four catches for 129 yards ... Virginia Tech's previous true road loss came on Oct. 17, 2009 at Georgia Tech.