EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Pittsburgh's regular season, which began with a loss to Bowling Green, ended Saturday with the Panthers accepting a bid to the Sun Bowl.
Bill Stull threw for two touchdowns and LeSean McCoy ran for another to help Pitt (9-3, 5-2) beat Connecticut 34-10, giving the Panthers their first nine-win regular season since 1982.
"It shows the character of the players and the coaches, never giving up and coming every day to practice to work hard and get better," McCoy said.
Pittsburgh scored 24 points in the third quarter to blow open a close game. Officials from the Sun Bowl were in the locker room immediately after the game to offer the Panthers a bid.
"You know what's neat about it, winning and going in with a win," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We deserve to be there. Our players deserve to be there. We aren't backing into anything."
The win assures Pitt (9-3, 5-2) of a share of second place in the Big East.
Connecticut finishes the regular season 7-5, and 3-4 in the conference. That should be good enough to send the Huskies to a bowl, possibly the PapaJohns.com Bowl or the Motor City Bowl, which had a representative at the game. A slot in that game would open up if Ohio State is chosen by a BCS bowl on Sunday, leaving the Big Ten short of teams to fill its lesser bowls.
UConn's Donald Brown ran for 189 yards on 34 carries, assuring he will end the regular season as the nation's leading rusher.
"It has been phenomenal what he did this year," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "The leading rusher in the country, to be from UConn, and no one ever thought that would happen, so that says a lot for him. But, again, we need to have balance in our offense, which we didn't have."
UConn's quarterbacks threw five interceptions and for just 80 yards.
The game was tied 3-all at halftime and Brown's 57-yard run with 4:29 left in the third quarter brought the Huskies to within 13-10.
But Stull responded on the next play, finding Derek Kinder over the middle on a post pattern for a 61-yard touchdown. After an 18-yard UConn punt, Stull hooked up with tight end Nate Byham for a 28-yard score that made it 27-10 with just 8 seconds left in the third.
McCoy had just 29 yards rushing at the half, but burst up the middle for a 47-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter for a 10-3 lead. He finished with 95 yards on 24 carries.
Stull had just 24 yards passing at intermission, but finished with 141 yards, completing 10 of 18 passes with one interception.
UConn's Tyler Lorenzen, playing his final home game, completed just 6 of 27 passes had had two interceptions. He was replaced by sophomore Zach Frazer at the start of the fourth quarter. Frazer only had three passes caught, all by Pittsburgh players, including a pick linebacker Greg Williams returned for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Three plays after McCoy broke the tie, Williams, who celebrated his 20th birthday, returned an interception 41 yards to the UConn 7 line, after UConn fullback Anthony Sherman fell down on the pattern. That led to the second 21-yard field goal of the day from Conor Lee.
"The defense made a lot of plays," said linebacker Scott McKillop, who had 13 tackles. "We played one of our best games of the season. That's one of the things that Coach Wannstedt always stresses, try and play your best football at the end of the season."
Pittsburgh scored first after Mike Toerper came up the middle to block a UConn punt 7 minutes into the second quarter. The Panthers took over at the 7, but had to settle for a field goal.
The blocked kick was a school-record 10th of the season. It was also the sixth time the Huskies have had a punt blocked this season.
UConn took over 6 minutes off the clock on its next drive and Dave Teggart tied the score on a 45-yard field goal. The freshman had earlier missed for the first time in 12 career attempts. His 53-yard attempt in the first quarter fell short and was caught in the end zone by Pitt's Aaron Berry, who returned it 44 yards. Berry also had a fourth-quarter interception that he returned 52 yards.
Pitt lost yards on its first three possessions, and had just 36 yards at the half. Several slips by Stull and McCoy on the frozen field had the Panthers' skill players changing cleats midway through the first quarter.
McCoy has 21 rushing touchdowns this season, just one behind Tony Dorsett's Pitt record.
The Panthers were 5-7 a year ago, but are 10-3 since the school gave Wannstedt a contract extension.
"If our chancellor had responded the way some of these guys do, I'd be coaching in the NFL now, or playing golf in Naples, I don't know what I'd be doing," Wannstedt said.
Instead he's preparing to spend New Year's Eve in El Paso.
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