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Pitt clinches 1st ACC title game berth by beating Wake Forest

By Joedy McCreary

AP Sports Writer

WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — Coach Pat Narduzzi wasn’t worried about a jinx. The Pitt coach had his equipment staff to bring the commemorative ACC caps and T-shirts all the way from Pittsburgh.

“I said, ‘Get them. It’s going to happen,’” Narduzzi said.

It did happen — thanks to Kenny Pickett’s career day.

Pickett threw a career-best three touchdown passes, all in the second half, and Pittsburgh beat Wake Forest 34-13 on Saturday to clinch its first berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

“Everyone knows this is a special group,” Pickett said. “Honestly, we show it every week. We play with the kind of heart and toughness that I don’t think is seen very often in this day and age in football.”

Pickett finished 23 of 30 for a career-high 316 yards with scoring passes of 4 yards to Rafael Araujo-Jones, 63 yards to Taysir Mack and 23 yards to Maurice Ffrench.

Darrin Hall had a 2-yard touchdown run and left tackle Stefano Millin added a late 6-yard scoring run for the Panthers (7-4, 6-1), who won their fourth straight — their longest winning streak in two years. They will play in their first title game since joining the league in 2013, taking on No. 2 Clemson on Dec. 1 in Charlotte.

As the final seconds ticked away, Narduzzi received a victory bath. Some of the players took turns waving the huge “Pitt” flag in front of the Panthers’ fans. And many of them pulled those Coastal Division championship T-shirts over their jerseys and pads.

“We’re one step closer to where we want to go,” Narduzzi said.

Jamie Newman was 15 of 30 for 206 yards with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Alex Bachman for the Demon Deacons (5-6, 2-5), who must beat Duke next week to qualify for their third straight bowl.

Nick Sciba kicked two field goals, including a 20-yarder with 12:30 to play that made it 20-13. Pickett and the Panthers then methodically went 78 yards in 11 plays and chewed up more than 5 minutes before the sophomore quarterback hit Ffrench on a post pattern for the score with 7:27 left that effectively sealed it.

THE TAKEAWAY

Pittsburgh: The Panthers climbed the Coastal Division standings with their running game, which ranks second only to Georgia Tech in the ACC with an average of nearly 257 yards. This was only the fourth time this season they were held to fewer than 200 yards rushing, but Pickett proved Pitt can move it through the air, too.

“It’s just kind of how the chips fell this week — we had to throw it a little bit, and we made some plays,” Pickett said. “We were explosive, like I said we were going to be all year.”

Wake Forest: One question hanging over the Demon Deacons centers on coach Dave Clawson’s decision to kick two short field goals. Sciba’s first kick on the first possession came on fourth-and-inches from the 15, and the second came on a fourth-and-goal from the 2 immediately after Pitt went up 20-10. But the real issue was that, of the Demon Deacons’ first five possessions of the second half, four of them were three-and-outs that lasted less than 90 seconds.

“Defensively, we couldn’t get off the field,” Clawson said. “We ended up getting worn down a little bit. . We didn’t make the plays we had to make on offense.”

KEY STAT

Pitt had a huge advantage in time of possession, finishing at 39 minutes, 31 seconds, while Wake Forest was at 20:29. The Panthers ran 77 offensive plays to a season-low 58 for the Demon Deacons.

•••

UNC 49, WCU 26

CHAPEL HILL (AP) — After being close so many times, North Carolina finally got a victory.

Nathan Elliott passed for 308 yards and two touchdowns to help North Carolina beat Western Carolina 49-26 on Saturday.

Javonte Williams rushed for 93 yards and three touchdowns for the Tar Heels (2-8), who ended a six-game losing streak.

“I’m excited for our players,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “I really am. I’m excited that they’re getting to enjoy tonight. I’m excited that there’s some reward at the end of all their hard work.”

North Carolina amassed a season-high 654 yards in its first win since Sept. 22, when it defeated Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh 38-35.

The Tar Heels had lost three games by seven points or less since then, two of which they led in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

“Everyone has just kept fighting,” Elliott said. “This locker room deserves that win.”

North Carolina senior walk-on Manny Miles, son of former LSU coach Les Miles, threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jake Bargas on a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half.

The Tar Heels led 35-16 at halftime despite throwing two interceptions, losing a fumble and failing to score on two of four trips into the red zone.

Western Carolina (3-8) ended its season with its eighth consecutive loss.

Tyrie Adams passed for 290 yards and rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns for the Catamounts.

Will Horton made field goals of 43, 45, 33 and 26 yards for Western Carolina.

•••

APP STATE 45, GEORGIA STATE 17

BOONE (AP) — Zac Thomas was 20 of 24 for 282 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to help Appalachian State beat Georgia State 45-17 on Saturday.

The Mountaineers (8-2, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference) won their third straight and kept their hopes alive to win a share of the East Division title, closing the season next Saturday against Troy, which is 7-0 in conference play.

Darrynton Evans ran 15 times for 127 yards and a touchdown and Corey Sutton caught four passes for 101 yards and a score.

App State outgained the Panthers 524-329, had no penalties and converted all three of its fourth down attempts.

Dan Ellington passed for 132 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions and ran 19 times for 113 yards for Georgia State (2-9, 1-6).

Georgia State scored a touchdown on the opening possession. App State then scored 31 straight and outscored the Panthers 45-3 before Georgia State capped the scoring with another TD.

•••

TULANE 24, ECU 18

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Darnell Mooney caught six passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns to help Tulane hold off East Carolina 24-18 for its third straight victory on Saturday.

Tulane (5-5, 4-2), which had never posted three consecutive victories in the American Conference, won three in a row for first time since 2013.

The Green Wave still had to hold off East Carolina (2-7, 0-6) as Holton Ahlers nailed Trevon Brown on TD tosses of 80 and 31 yards as the Pirates closed to 21-18 early in the final quarter.

•••

TIED AT HALF, NO. 1 ALABAMA ROMPS PAST THE CITADEL, 50-17

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — No. 1 Alabama finally found a team that could play toe to toe with the Crimson Tide, at least until halftime.

The surprise twist: It was The Citadel, an FCS team, not a Southeastern Conference rival.

Tua Tagovailoa passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns, but the Tide struggled for 30-plus minutes before putting away The Citadel in a 50-17 victory on Saturday.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said his team learned a lesson — it must be mentally prepared.

“I don’t really care who you’re playing,” he said.

“Every team that comes here and plays us is going to give us their best shot,” Saban added. “These guys have got everything to gain and nothing to lose, and we’ve got nothing but downside in the game.”

Alabama (11-0), which had coasted against SEC opponents, went into halftime tied at 10 with the Bulldogs (4-6). It wasn’t until ‘Bama scored two touchdowns in a 12-second span on its way to a 27-point third quarter that the Tide could rest easy.

“I thought we played a great first half, and our players believed we had the best first half we could have had,” The Citadel coach Brent Thompson said. “We could have hung in there a little longer.”

Tagovailoa completed 18 of 22 passes in three quarters, including touchdowns of 21 and 5 yards to Jaylen Waddle and a 68-yarder to tight end Irv Smith Jr. He broke AJ McCarron’s school single-season record of 30 touchdown passes, reaching 31.

Alabama still has Auburn and then No. 5 Georgia in the SEC championship game.

•••

NO. 9 OHIO STATE RALLIES TO BEAT MARYLAND 52-51 IN OT

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Ohio State went to overtime to avoid one of the most stunning upsets of the season, beating Maryland 52-51 on Saturday when the Terrapins failed to convert a 2-point conversion after matching the Buckeyes’ touchdown in the first extra period.

Favored by 14 1/2 points, No. 8 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 10 CFP) trailed by two touchdowns in the third quarter and 45-38 with under two minutes left before rallying.

After a 5-yard touchdown run by Dwayne Haskins gave the Buckeyes the lead to start overtime, Tayon Fleet-Davis scored to get the Terrapins within a point. Interim coach Matt Canada decided to end it right there, going for 2, but Tyrrell Pigrome’s pass to Jeshaun Jones was off target.

The Buckeyes stayed in the hunt for the Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. They finish the regular season next week in a game against Michigan that will decide the Big Ten East winner.

The Buckeyes never led until overtime against the upstart Terrapins (5-6, 3-5). Haskins ran for three touchdowns and was 28 for 38 for 405 yards and three TDs.

Ohio State finished with a whopping 688 yards, including 203 on the ground by J.K. Dobbins, but the defense allowed 535 yards and seven touchdowns.

Maryland freshman Anthony McFarland had touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards in the first quarter and finished with 298 yards rushing — seven short of the school record.

•••

NO. 3 NOTRE DAME 36, NO. 12 SYRACUSE 3

NEW YORK (AP) — Ian Book returned to the starting lineup for Notre Dame and threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns to help the Fighting Irish stay on target for a trip to the College Football Playoff.

The Fighting Irish held out Book from last week’s home game against Florida State with a rib injury, and he wasn’t missed as Notre Dame (11-0, No. 3 CFP) rolled with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback.

Notre Dame clearly wanted to be cautious with Book ahead of its trip to Yankee Stadium to face high-scoring Syracuse (8-3, No. 12 CFP). The junior quarterback, who took over as the starter four games into the season, looked as good as new.

•••

NO. 4 MICHIGAN 31, INDIANA 20

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Karan Higdon ran for a go-ahead touchdown early in the third quarter and Jake Moody set a Michigan record with six field goals.

The Wolverines (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 4 CFP) looked sluggish and it may have had something to do with looking ahead to next week’s game at No. 9 Ohio State, where they need a win to reach the Big Ten championship game for the first time.

The Hoosiers (5-6, 2-6) were competitive against Michigan as they have been lately, losing in overtime twice in the previous three meetings, but came up short again.

•••

NO. 5 GEORGIA 66, UMASS 27

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Freshman Justin Fields threw two scoring passes and ran for another touchdown, Tyler Simmons had rushing and receiving scores, and Georgia protected its playoff hopes.

Another freshman, James Cook ran for 76 yards on only three carries, including his first two career scoring runs, from 26 and 27 yards. Georgia gained 701 yards, including 426 yards on the ground, and never punted. Fields led the Bulldogs with 100 yards rushing, including a career-long run of 47 yards and a 3-yard scoring run. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Georgia (10-1) leaned on its quick-strike offense on six scoring drives lasting no more than four plays. Starter Jake Fromm and Fields shared time at quarterback as the Bulldogs avoided looking ahead to next week’s state rivalry game against Georgia Tech or the Dec. 1 Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 1 Alabama. The Bulldogs led UMass (4-8) 42-13 at halftime.

•••

OKLAHOMA STATE 45, NO. 7 WEST VIRGINIA 41

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Taylor Cornelius threw a touchdown pass to Tylan Wallace with 42 seconds remaining to rally Oklahoma State.

Will Grier led West Virginia (8-2, 6-2, No. 9 CFP) to the Oklahoma State 14, but couldn’t connect with David Sills V on the final play. The loss all but ended West Virginia’s shot at the College Football Playoff. West Virginia faces Oklahoma next Friday and still has a shot at reaching the Big 12 title game.

Cornelius passed for 338 yards and ran for 106 to help Oklahoma State (6-5, 3-5) become bowl eligible.

•••

NO. 10 LSU 42, RICE 10

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Joe Burrow passed for a career-high 307 yards and two touchdowns in less than three quarters for LSU.

The Tigers (9-2, No. 7 CFP) led 35-3 midway through the third quarter en route to a victory in which the only drama involved whether LSU would cover a point spread hovering around 44 points before kickoff.

LSU outgained Rice (1-11) 552 yards to 198. The Owls have lost 11 straight.

•••

NO. 15 FLORIDA 63, IDAHO 10

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Feleipe Franks passed for 274 yards and three touchdowns — all in the first half — and Florida ran up 600 total yards.

Florida (8-3) rolled to a 49-0 lead at halftime. Gators defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown on the first play to start the onslaught.

Four other touchdown drives took less than two minutes and the longest of the seven first-half scores came in 2:24.

Idaho dropped to 4-7.

•••

NO. 16 PENN STATE 20, RUTGERS 7

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Trace McSorley threw two touchdown passes to tight end Pat Freiermuth and Penn State’s defense set up two touchdowns with turnovers.

The Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten, No. 14 CFP) beat Rutgers (1-10, 0-7) for the 12th straight time. Rutgers has lost 10 straight.

McSorley won for the 30th time as a starter, making him the winningest quarterback in school history. The senior broke a tie with Todd Blackledge (1980-82) and Tony Sacca (1988-91). The two touchdowns increased his total — running and passing — to 101.

•••

NO. 17 WASHINGTON 42, OREGON STATE 23

SEATTLE (AP) — Jake Browning threw three touchdown passes and Myles Gaskin rushed for 135 yards in the final home game of their careers, and Washington scored 28 first-quarter points.

The victory by the Huskies (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) sets up a winner-take-all matchup with No. 8 Washington State in the Apple Cup next Friday for the Pac-12 North Division title. The winner of the 111th matchup will play in the conference title game with a Rose Bowl berth at stake.

The Huskies dominated Oregon State (2-9, 1-7) early then coasted the final three quarters. After getting a week off, Washington jumped to a 28-3 lead on the strength of two short TD runs by Salvon Ahmed and a pair touchdown passes by Browning. He hit Aaron Fuller with a 17-yarder after Oregon State fumbled a kickoff, and connected with tight end Cade Otton on a 21-yard TD strike.

Browning finished 17 of 23 for 242 yards and a 205.3 passer rating.

NO. 20 KENTUCKY 34, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 23

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Mike Edwards had two takeaways leading to Kentucky’s first two touchdowns, and the Wildcats made several fourth-quarter defensive stops.

Kentucky (8-3) ended a two-game slide. Josh Allen sacked Brent Stockstill for a 7-yard loss on fourth down and set up Miles Butler’s 32-yard field goal with 4:01 remaining.

A facemask penalty helped the Blue Raiders (7-4) reach the Kentucky 5 in the final minute, but consecutive sacks of Stockstill by Allen and Jamar Watson ended that final chance.

NO. 21 UTAH 30, COLORADO 7

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Jason Shelley threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the snow, and Utah moved closer to its first Pac-12 title game appearance.

The Utes (8-3, 6-3) will win the Pac-12 South if Arizona State loses at Oregon later Saturday or if the Sun Devils fall to Arizona next week.

A sixth consecutive loss for the Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6) capped a week in which athletic director Rick George said he hadn’t made any decisions regarding coach Mike MacIntyre’s employment amid a news report that his job was in jeopardy.

FLORIDA STATE 22, NO. 22 BOSTON COLLEGE 21

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Deondre Francois threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Tamorrion Terry with 1:49 left and Florida State beat Boston College to keep its bowl hopes alive.

Francois was 19 of 39 for 322 yards, shaking off two first-half interceptions for his fourth 300-yard game of the season. Cam Akers had 19 carries for 110 yards for the Seminoles (5-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference). It was Florida State’s first victory in six attempts against Top 25 teams this season.

Boston College (7-4, 4-3) hasn’t won in Tallahassee since 2008. A.J. Dillon ran a season-high 37 times for 116 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles.

NO. 24 NORTHWESTERN 24, MINNESOTA 14

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Isaiah Bowser rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns and Northwestern turned three turnovers by Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan into 10 points.

Clayton Thorson completed 15 of 21 passes for 230 yards without a turnover and had a 13-yard touchdown run in the first half for the Wildcats (7-4, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 22 CFP). They pushed their school-record road winning streak to eight and have their best conference record since 1996.

Nate Hall had two interceptions for the Wildcats. Minnesota 5-6, 2-6), who fell to 4-13 in conference play under coach P.J. Fleck.

NO. 25 MISSISSIPPI STATE 52, ARKANSAS 6

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Nick Fitzgerald threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score to lead Mississippi State.

Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference, No. 21 CFP) held Arkansas (2-9, 0-7) to 219 total yards.

In his final home game, Fitzgerald completed 9 of 14 passes for 127 yards and also ran for 85 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown. Senior Aeris Williams, who was starting in place of the injured Kylin Hill, added 104 yards rushing on 15 carries.

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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