Saturday's state college football: Western Michigan stuns Pittsburgh 44-41

Associated Press

Pittsburgh — There’s a montage Western Michigan football coach Tim Lester makes his team watch relentlessly. It includes a flash of the letter “R,” which stands for “respond.”

That’s not to be confused with “react.” A reaction is emotional. A “response,” according to Lester, is calculated. It’s measured. It’s well-thought-out.

“It’s our program’s No. 1 cry,” Lester said.

Western Michigan running back Sean Tyler (9) dashes through the end zone after scoring a touchdown against the Pittsburgh defense.

One that reverberated all over Heinz Field on Saturday as the Broncos stunned Pittsburgh 44-41 for the program’s first victory over a Power Five program during Lester’s five-year tenure.

Time and again the Broncos (2-1) would sprint in front only to have the Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett throw a touchdown pass to shift momentum. And time and again Western Michigan quarterback Kaleb Eleby would snap the ball, make the right decision in Lester’s run/pass-option offense and lead a touchdown drive to go back in front.

“We’re going to be in a lot of close games, it’s part of the deal,” Lester said. “And this will be a big one. And hopefully, we can continue to respond because it does matter in big games.”

It’s the kind of response the Panthers (2-1) delivered a week ago in a stirring win on the road against Tennessee. While they stressed they would take all the steps to avoid a letdown, it happened anyway. Pitt fell behind by 13 early and while they drew even three times, the defense couldn’t get the stop necessary to give Pickett a chance to take control of the game for good.

Eleby fought off a bout with cramps that forced him to take an IV at halftime to throw for 336 yards and three touchdowns. La’Darius Jefferson ran for 78 yards and two scores and Western Michigan rolled up 516 yards while holding the ball for 40 minutes, including the last 3:48 after Pickett’s sixth touchdown pass drew Pitt within three.

“Running our system and getting the ball at the end with four minutes left and running it out is no better feeling, you know?” Lester said.

Pickett finished with 382 yards to move past Hall of Famer Dan Marino into second-place on the school’s all-time passing list but Pitt turned it over three times, allowed Pickett to be sacked on fourth-and-6 in the fourth quarter and spent most of the afternoon playing chase against a Mid-American Conference team that lost by 30 at Michigan two weeks ago.

“Felt like we didn’t have any juice or energy today,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.

Not when it really mattered anyway.

Eleby’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Corey Crooms that put Western Michigan up 34-27 in the third quarter was a microcosm of Pitt’s afternoon. Panther safety Erick Hallett appeared to have Crooms wrapped up for a modest gain only to have teammate Brandon Hill run into him, allowing Crooms to spin away and race to the end zone.

“Defensively we couldn’t get off the field,” Narduzzi said.

Pitt quickly tied it on Pickett’s second touchdown pass of the day to tight end Lucas Krull but the Broncos responded, as they did each and every time the Panthers threatened to take control.

Eleby led a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Jefferson bulling over from 3 yards out to make it 41-34. Western Michigan sacked Pickett on fourth-and-6 to snuff out a Pitt response and Parker Sampson’s 29-yard field goal gave the Broncos just enough cushion.

Needing a stop after Pickett’s final touchdown pass, Pitt didn’t get one. Western Michigan churned out a pair of first downs, then ran to celebrate with the small group of fans who made the 377-mile trip from Kalamazoo while the Panthers trudged to the locker room following another baffling loss.

“It’s not an ACC game,” Narduzzi said. “All our goals are still ahead of us, and it’s one ballgame.”

More Saturday results

Eastern Michigan 42, (at) UMass 28: Ben Bryant threw for 298 yards and a score, Jawon Hamilton rushed for 122 yards with a touchdown and Darius Boone Jr. added two short touchdown runs for the Eagles. Hassan Beydoun made six catches for 101 yards.

The Eagles (2-1) led 35-14 after Hamilton’s 10-yard run early in the fourth quarter. Bryant added a 54-yard TD pass to Zach Westmoreland to make it 42-21 with just over four minutes remaining.

David Carter’s interception, his second in two weeks, set up a nine-play drive that ended with Samson Evans scoring from 13 yards out for a 21-0 lead before the Minutemen got their first points on Josiah Johnson’s 1-yard run that completed an 80-yard drive to trail 21-7 at the break.

Hutchinson and Boone had TD runs to complete a pair of first-quarter Eastern Michigan drives for a 14-0 lead.

Brady Olson threw for 288 yards including TD passes of 45 yards to Melvin Hill and a 29-yarder to Johnson along with an interception. Ellis Merriweather rushed for a career-high 142 yards on 23 carries and Carter Scudo ran for a 2-yard TD for UMass.

The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards offense.

The Minutemen (0-3) have lost 14 straight games dating back to 2019.

(At) LSU 49, Central Michigan 21: Max Johnson passed for 372 yards and a career-best five touchdowns in less than three quarters, and LSU defensive end Andre Anthony returned a fumble for a 33-yard score.

Johnson completed 26 of 35 passes but was pulled after his final throw and his only big mistake of the night, an interception returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Central Michigan safety Devonni Reed with 5:41 left in the third quarter.

Deion Smith, a freshman who had one catch through LSU’s first two games, had touchdown catches of 28 and 40 yards in the first quarter as the Tigers (2-1) raced to a 21-0 lead.

Freshman tight end Jack Bech caught five passes for 81 yards, highlighted by his one-handed, back-shoulder, 20-yard touchdown catch along the left sideline.

Kayshon Boutte scored his sixth touchdown of the season on what went in the books as a 2-yard pass, but was essentially an end-around in which he took a short forward pitch while crossing in front of Johnson behind the line of scrimmage.

LSU’s defensive score came on CMU’s first possession, when cornerback Derek Stingley dislodged the ball from running back Darius Bracy and Anthony scooped the loose ball as he ran into open field along the sideline.

Johnson’s final TD pass went for 21 yards to Devonta Lee, putting the Tigers up 42-7, before the Chippewas (1-2) responded with their defensive touchdown and a scoring drive in the fourth quarter, when LSU was playing mostly reserve defenders.

Backup Daniel Richardson’s 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joel Wilson briefly pulled CMU’s to 42-21 before LSU freshman running back Corey Kiner ran for a 5-yard TD to cap a drive in which he carried five times for 47 yards.

(At) Missouri S&T 51, Wayne State 45, OT: Aaron Moya's 2-yard run in overtime was the margin of difference. The game was a back-and-forth affair featuring three lead changes. Zach Glaess kicked a 40-yard field goal on the final play of the fourth quarter for Missouri S&T to force the overtime. Wayne State had erased a 42-31 lead on a 2-yard run by Avery Hall and a 17-yard pass from Chase Churchill to Trevonte Davis in the final seven minutes. Josh Kulka finished with 13 completions in 20 attempts for 289 yards and three touchdowns for the Warriors (0-3). Davis caught nine passes for 244 yards and two TDs.

Saturday's other scores

Adrian 41, Greenville 28

Albion 24, Hanover 14

Alma 51, Anderson (Ind.) 2

Bluffton 21, Kalamazoo 20

Ferris State 47, Saginaw Valley 45

Grand Valley 45, Wisconsin-Lacrosse 24

Hope 27, Rose-Hulman 20

N. Michigan 20, Davenport 14

Olivet 59, Manchester 7

Trine 31, Mount St. Joseph 30, OT

Truman St. 38, Hillsdale 24