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UVa's Coastal Division title hopes dashed in road loss to Pittsburgh
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UVa's Coastal Division title hopes dashed in road loss to Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH — Noah Taylor can remember when there wasn’t an expectation to be in and win these types of games.

When the now-senior Virginia outside linebacker arrived, the Cavaliers were still in the infancy of their rebuild under coach Bronco Mendenhall and they were coming off their first bowl appearance in six seasons.

That’s what made UVa’s 48-38 loss to No. 20 Pittsburgh on Saturday at Heinz Field so difficult to deal with.

The Cavaliers (6-5, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) were denied a bid for their second ACC Coastal Division crown — the current expectation Taylor and his teammates have — in the last three years and Pitt (9-2, 6-1 ACC) took the division, earning a bid to next month’s ACC championship game.

“It’s good to see where we’ve come as a program,” Taylor, who had five tackles, said, “but to me, it’s not enough. And obviously, I’m not going to be satisfied until we win the ACC championship. You could say I’m proud, but not satisfied.”

Mendenhall’s bunch battled in a back-and-forth bout that saw the two squads combine for 1,023 total yards of offense.

But the Cavaliers couldn’t keep pace after Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison hauled in his fourth touchdown catch of the contest with 2:10 left to tie a school single-game record and give the Panthers the score they would win by.

“When it’s a goal you had for the entire season and you know you had every chance to compete, perform and win,” Mendenhall, currently in his sixth season at the helm of the Hoos, said, “and then to see it go to someone else, it hurts.”

UVa had its left-handed slinging signal-caller Brennan Armstrong back in action for the first time since he injured his ribs against BYU on Oct. 30, and the Cavaliers’ offense returned to top form.

Armstrong led a touchdown drive on the opening possession of the contest, three game-tying scoring drives throughout and kept UVa in it while he racked up 487 passing yards — to mark the fifth time this fall that he’s thrown for 400 yards or more — and three touchdowns.

The problem, though, the Cavaliers couldn’t contain Addison. He was the key culprit of their issues.

“Really good player,” Mendenhall said, “and I think they used him really well. And right at the end, I thought we had an interception and somehow, he comes up with the ball. He’s tough to defend and I think he has been all year.”

Addison recorded 14 catches for 202 yards and the four touchdowns, but it was the 62-yarder to extend Pitt’s lead to 10 that was the difference maker. The speedster made a contested grab before eluding and slipping past UVa defensive back Darrius Bratton and sprinting all the way past the goal line.

And that was the answer to Armstrong, who had fired back with a two-play touchdown drive earlier in the final stanza to pull UVa within three points. He completed a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks before finding wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry for a 39-yard score.

But that’s as close as UVa would get the rest of the way. The damage was already done.

Addison also tallied two back-breaking touchdowns on fourth-down plays earlier in the contest.

His 34-yard receiving score on a fourth-and-1 with 8:32 left in the third to catapulted Pitt ahead 31-24 right as UVa appeared it could survive the Panthers’ drive into its territory and have a chance with the ball to take a lead. But Addison raced past the defense and didn’t have a defender within a few steps when he caught Heisman Trophy contending quarterback Kenny Pickett’s deep ball.

His other fourth-down score happened in the second quarter to give the Panthers their first lead, a 14-7 advantage, on a fourth-and-4 snap that result in an 18-yard score for Addison.

“It was just simple assignment mistakes,” Taylor said. “It was coverage mistakes, but nothing that can’t be fixed.”

Armstrong needed only seven plays to knot the game at 14. His 22-yard throw to Wicks set up running back Mike Hollins’ 2-yard touchdown run.

The Cavaliers responded after Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Panthers added a field goal on their next drive.

Before halftime, Armstrong completed seven straight throws and finished off a drive with a 7-yard touchdown to tight end Jelani Woods to pull UVa within three going into the locker room.

UVa never led after its initial first-quarter edge when Armstrong connected with wide receiver Keytaon Thompson to go up 7-0, though.

“I’m glad we got to play basically in a game that was going to determine the Coastal,” Armstrong said. “… But for the older guys, it sucks at the moment and we’ve just got to push past it and get to the next game.”

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