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PITTSBURGH – Chad Voytik threw a pair of touchdown passes and Pittsburgh kept its bowl hopes alive with a 30-7 win over sloppy Syracuse on Saturday.
Tyler Boyd caught seven passes for 126 yards, including a 49-yard catch-and-run score early in the fourth quarter to lift the Panthers (5-6, 3-4 ACC) to just their second victory in their last eight games.
Pitt sophomore running back James Conner set a new ACC record with his 22nd rushing touchdown of the season but left in the second quarter with a right hip injury. For once, the Panthers didn't need their star sophomore. Chris James ran for a career-high 122 yards in place of Conner and Pitt's defense did the rest.
Syracuse (3-8, 1-6) turned it over three times and generated little momentum behind quarterbacks AJ Long and Mitch Kimble.
Long sat out a loss to Duke two weeks ago with nerve problems in his right shoulder but struggled with his accuracy in his return. The freshman completed 10 of 19 for 149 yards with a pick and added another 30 on the ground but the Orange never got going.
Kimble provided little energy during a brief appearance. He missed all six of his passes and threw an interception. Syracuse has lost eight of nine following a 2-0 start.
The series between the longtime rivals — who have faced each other every year since 1955 and leapt from the Big East to the ACC last fall — often makes up for in late-game drama what it lacks in fireworks, with each of the last two meetings decided by a single point.
Not this time.
Pitt, trying to extend its bowl streak to seven straight, wore down the Orange behind a running game that cruised even with the nation's third-leading rusher sitting out the second half with pain in his hip. Conner stuck around long enough to punch in a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter, tying Heisman Trophy-winner Tony Dorsett's school mark for rushing TDs in a season and topping the 21 set by Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams in 2009.
Chris Blewitt overcame two early misses to drill a 46-yard field goal to make it 10-0 and the Panthers went up 17-0 late in the half when Voytik hit Dontez Ford for an 11-yard touchdown.
Syracuse's only extended drive came at the start of the second half, keyed by a 46-yard throw from Long to Steve Ishmael that set up Ron Johnson — a defensive lineman — for a 1-yard score that briefly pulled the Orange within 17-7.
It didn't stay that close for long. Relying heavily on James and Isaac Bennett, the Panthers tacked on a 31-yard field goal from Blewitt to push their advantage back to 20-7 and Boyd put the Orange away with a beautifully executed wide receiver screen. The sophomore took the short pass from Voytik, split two defenders then outran the other nine Syracuse players on the field as he topped 100 yards receiving for the fourth straight game and the fifth time this year.
The Panthers outgained Syracuse 445-255, held the ball for nearly 39 minutes and had little trouble setting up an "all or nothing" game at Miami next Saturday. A victory and Pitt goes to its seventh straight bowl game. A loss leads to a long offseason of how a team featuring two of the best sophomore skill players in the country squandered a 3-0 start.