Israel Abanikanda runs for 320 yards, 6 TDs in Pitt’s win
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A week ago, running back Israel Abanikanda had his arm in a sling and Pittsburgh was at a low point in its season.
One week later, Abanikanda returned and enjoyed a game for the ages.
Abanikanda ran for 320 yards to break Tony Dorsett’s Pittsburgh record and scored six touchdowns in the Panthers’ 45-29 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Dorsett ran for 303 yards in 1975 against Notre Dame. Abanikanda broke the rushing record with a 6-yard carry in the fourth quarter.
Abanikanda also tied the school and Atlantic Coast Conference records for touchdowns. Norman Budd scored six touchdowns for Pitt against Ohio in 1910.
“It feels unreal breaking these legendary records,” Abanikanda said. “It feels amazing, but I also know what I’m capable of. I know what I can do.”
Abanikanda helped Pitt (1-1, 4-2) rebound from an ugly home loss last week against a Georgia Tech team that fired its head coach earlier in the week. Abanikanda, the ACC’s leading rusher, didn’t play in the second half and had his arm in a sling at the end of last week’s game against Georgia Tech.
“The records are great,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Tony Dorsett is one of the greatest tailbacks to play in Pitt history, so that’s pretty significant.”
Grant Wells completed 25 passes for 277 yards with a touchdown and interception for Virginia Tech, which was coming off of back-to-back blowout losses against North Carolina and West Virginia. Virginia Tech (1-2, 2-4) scored 29 points after putting up 20 points total in its two previous contests, the Hokies’ worst stretch since 1989.
The Hokies jumped out to an early 16-7 lead, but an offensive lull allowed the Panthers to score the next 24 points. After a second-quarter touchdown, the Hokies punted five times — including four three-and-outs — and threw an interception on their next six drives.
“We had opportunities,” Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry said. “There were ebbs and flows and momentum kept shifting. But we didn’t do things well enough to win the game in the end.”
Pitt led 17-16 at halftime and Abanikanda extended the advantage on the Panthers’ second drive of the second half. Abanikanda scored his third touchdown of the game, this one a 29-yard run along the left side to give the Panthers a 24-16 lead.
Abanikanda scored his fourth touchdown on the Panthers’ next drive, capping a seven-play, 56-yard series, putting Pitt in front, 31-16.
But Virginia Tech rallied. Wells hooked up with Da’Wain Lofton for a 43-yard touchdown and P.J. Prioleau blocked a Pitt punt that was recovered by Nyke Johnson in the end zone. A two-point try failed and Pitt led, 31-29.
The Pitt defense helped Abanikanda find the end zone again.
John Morgan forced a fumble at midfield, which was recovered by Shayne Simon. Abanikanda scored his fifth touchdown two plays later. He tied the school record with an 80-yard burst up the middle on the Panthers’ next drive.
“He has breakaway speed,” Narduzzi said. “If he pops in there, good luck because not many guys can catch him.”
Abanikanda opened the scoring for Pittsburgh with a 38-yard touchdown run. He capped an 11-play, 95-yard drive.
The Hokies answered with a touchdown of their own 63 seconds later on a 5-yard Malachi Thomas run. Deandre Jules blocked the extra point to keep Pitt in front, 7-6.
William Ross kicked an 18-yard field goal, giving Virginia Tech a 9-7 lead. It could have been more, but Pitt’s goal line stand kept the Hokies out of the end zone after three plays from inside the 2-yard line.
Keshawn King made sure to score on the Hokies’ next possession after Keonta Jenkins picked off Kedon Slovis two plays later. King’s 19-yard touchdown capped a two-play, 30-second drive and gave Virginia Tech a 16-7 lead.
Abanikanda ended Pitt’s next possession with his second touchdown of the game and Ben Sauls kicked a 47-yard field goal to give the Panthers a one-point halftime lead.
ABANIKANDA AT IT AGAIN
Abanikanda was the first to score six touchdowns in an ACC game since North Carolina’s Kelvin Bryant accomplished the feat on Sept. 12, 1981, vs. East Carolina. He’s the first Power 5, BCS player to top 300 yards rushing and six touchdowns since Ricky Williams in 1998.
Abanikanda now has 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Abanikanda rushed for four touchdowns during a win against Rhode Island last month.
Abanikanda is the second opponent to rush for at least five touchdowns against Virginia Tech and the first since Miami’s Willis McGahee on Dec. 7, 2002.
STRUGGLING IN PITTSBURGH
Virginia Tech is 1-7 in Pittsburgh since 2001 at Acrisure Stadium, formerly Heinz Field. Only once in those eight meetings has Pitt scored fewer than 31 points against Virginia Tech.
Dating back to 2001, when both schools were members of the Big East Conference, the Panthers have won 10 of the past 14 games overall against Virginia Tech, including four of the last five.
Virginia Tech: After a difficult two-week stretch, the Hokies held an early lead and rallied late against a Pittsburgh team that was ranked earlier this season before ultimately coming up short.
Pitt: The Panthers started slow after a bad loss a week earlier, but Abanikanda rallied his team with a history-making game.
Virginia Tech: Host Miami on Saturday.
Pitt: Pitt is off next week. The Panthers travel to Louisville on Oct. 22 for their first road game in more than a month.
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