EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Rodney Hammond Jr. rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns, Pitt’s defense forced four turnovers, while Ben Sauls kicked a 47-yard game-winning field goal, as the Panthers (9-4) overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half to beat UCLA (9-4) 37-35 on Friday in the 89th Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium.
Pitt was short-handed with several starters opting out of the Sun Bowl to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft. Nick Patti, playing for Kedon Slovis who transferred to BYU, saw the majority of the snaps at quarterback for Pitt, throwing for 224 yards and a touchdown.
Bub Means hauled in four receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown, while the Panther’s defense came away with four takeaways, including interceptions by Bangally Kamara, Javon McIntyre, and Tylar Wiltz.
Playing in his final collegiate game at UCLA, Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed 15 of his 23 passes for 270 yards and three total touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush), but threw three costly interceptions before being pulled from the game by head coach Chip Kelly in the fourth quarter.
TJ Harden paced the Bruins with 111 yards and a go-ahead touchdown on the ground late in the fourth quarter, while Kam Brown hauled in four receptions for 115 yards.
Early in the third quarter, Patti threw an interception that was returned 52 yards for a touchdown by Jaylin Davies that put UCLA up 28-14. It was all Panthers from there. Pitt responded on their next possession with a blue collar, 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Hammond Jr. to make it a 7-point game heading into the fourth quarter.
Following Thompson-Robinson’s third interception of the game, Hammond Jr. punched in a 7-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 28-28 in the fourth quarter.
The Bruins would then cough up the football for their fourth turnover of the game on the ensuing kickoff, leading to a 31-yard field goal by Sauls to put the Panthers up 31-28 with 10:38 to play. Sauls would add another chip shot field goal late in the fourth quarter to put Pitt up 34-28 with 4:24 to play.
Ethan Garbers, in relief of Thompson-Robinson, would then engineer a 8-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, which was capped off by an 8-yard touchdown run from Harden with just 0:30 seconds to play. With their backs against the wall, Patti got the Panthers into field goal range in six plays, leading to the game-winning field goal from Sauls.
Under head coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt ends their 2022 campaign at 9-4, while UCLA also finishes the season 9-4 under Kelly.