SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- LaRod Stephens-Howling scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Conor Lee kicked four field goals, and Pittsburgh rallied past Syracuse 34-24 on Saturday in the Big East opener for both teams.
Pittsburgh (3-1), which lost its season opener after starting the season ranked No. 25, scored on all four of its possessions in the second half to hand Greg Robinson his 20th loss in 22 conference games since taking over three-plus years ago as head coach at Syracuse (1-4).
Cam Dantley was 9-for-17 for 137 yards passing and two TDs and Curtis Brinkley had 119 yards rushing on 16 carries for Syracuse.
Bill Stull finished 17-for-29 for 166 yards and one score. LeSean McCoy finished with a season-high 149 yards rushing, his first 100-yard game of the season, Stephens-Howling had 71 yards on 13 carries. Derek Kinder had eight catches for 92 yards to move into 10th place in Pitt history with 114 receptions.
If the Panthers were hoping to finally get their run game in high gear -- they were ranked last in the Big East in rushing at 123 yards per game -- they couldn't have asked for a more obliging opponent. Of the 119 teams in college football's top division, Syracuse ranks 102nd in rushing defense (198 yards per game) and 114th in total defense.
Pitt trailed until the first minute of the fourth quarter, and the Panthers had to gamble to tie it.
Faced with a fourth-and-inches at their 33 and trailing 24-16, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt elected to go for it and Stull got it on a quarterback sneak. Pittsburgh was 4-for-4 on fourth downs in a 21-20 win over Iowa a week ago, but those gambles came on the other side of the 50.
To that point, the much-maligned Orange defense had held Pitt's running tandem in check, allowing 103 yards on 27 carries. McCoy changed that in a hurry, bolting right for 34 yards on the penultimate play of the third and gaining another 20 on a nifty run up the middle that he broke outside to set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Stephens-Howling on the first play of the fourth. Stull hit Jonathan Baldwin for the 2-point conversion to tie it at 24-all.
After Lee's 25-yard field goal gave Pitt the lead at 9:17, the Panthers sealed the victory with a sack. Averaging 3.6 sacks per game to rank fifth nationally, Greg Romeus hit Dantley to force a fumble and Jabaal Shead recovered for Pitt at the Syracuse 34.
Stephens-Howling completed the comeback with a 3-yard TD run with 3:22 left.
It spoiled a solid day for Dantley, whose 36-yard touchdown pass to freshman Van Chew had given the Orange a 24-14 lead early in the third.
Lee gave Pitt a 3-0 lead early in the first with a 40-yard field goal. The lead lasted all of 10 seconds when Mike Holmes took the ensuing kickoff and raced 90 yards up the left side untouched to give the Orange a 7-3 lead.
The Orange defense forced a punt after three downs as the partisan crowd stood cheering and Syracuse struck again to make it 14-3 on Dantley's 27-yard scoring pass to Donte Davis with 5:42 left in the first quarter.
But after forcing Pitt into another three-and-out, Syracuse used a 22-yard gain by Brinkley to drive to the Panthers 38 in just three plays. But unlike Wannstedt, Robinson elected to punt on fourth-and-1, and Pitt took advantage.
Lee's 43-yard field goal made it 14-6 early in the second, and when the Orange went three-and-out, Stull guided the Panthers on a 10-play, 79-yard scoring drive.
Stull hit Cedric McGee for 13 yards on a crossing play and a face-mask penalty against Syracuse's Nick Santiago moved the ball to midfield. Stull hit Derek Kinder for another 13 yards on a crossing play, Stephens-Howling gained 15 yards rushing and caught a 13-yard pass to set up Stull's 2-yard scoring pass to Dorin Dickerson, again on a crossing pattern, to move the Panthers within a point.
Patrick Shadle's 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half gave Syracuse a 17-13 lead.
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