Stanford sends out 2018 with cringe-inducing 14-13 victory over Pitt in the Sun Bowl

January 11, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 11, 2019

The Stanford football team closed out its 2018 season with an ugly 14-13 New Year’s Eve victory over Pitt in the Sun Bowl.

It was the Cardinal’s closest contest of the season, with the team putting up its lowest point total of the year after a 17-3 win over USC. Junior quarterback K.J. Costello completed just six of 17 passes for 105 yards, and the offense gained just 208 yards while converting a single third down on 10 opportunities — all season lows. It seemed fitting that the winning touchdown came on an offensive fumble recovery.

Granted, Costello’s unit was missing a number of starters, including hobbled wonderback Bryce Love, who (wisely) opted out out of the game in order to prepare for the NFL draft. But the defense was also missing players, and it turned in a commendable performance. The Panthers offense rolled up a modest 348 yards, making only five of 17 first downs, and managed just one touchdown in three visits to the red zone.

The Cardinal, which finished the season 9-4, got the ball to start the game but went three-and-out on its first four possessions. (Pitt outgained Stanford 114 yards to 1 in the opening quarter.) The Panthers drew first blood, although the 7-7 ACC squad probably short-circuited its scoring chances when head coach Pat Narduzzi called for Kenny Pickett to attempt a pass on third and goal at the 4-yard line. Junior outside linebacker Jordan Fox sacked Pitt’s sophomore quarterback, who was four for 10 with 18 yards at that point in the game. The seven-yard loss set up a 29-yard Alex Kessman field goal early in the second quarter.

After an exchange of three-and-outs, Costello got Stanford moving with completions of nine and four yards to sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson and freshman wideout Michael Wilson, respectively. Two plays after junior running back Dorian Maddox ran for 15 yards, the team advanced to Pitt’s 5-yard line on a 29-yard catch by senior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Fellow senior Cameron Scarlett then carried the pigskin twice, notching his eighth touchdown of the season with a one-yard run.

Pitt responded with a touchdown of its own on its most complete drive of the game, a five-minute series that covered 75 yards on eight snaps. Pickett completed both of his pass attempts, recording a 14-yarder to sophomore Taysir Mack and a 10-yarder to junior Maurice Ffrench (whose delightful surname does indeed start with a double letter); he also ran for 30 yards on three carries. One of the Panthers’ feature backs, Darrin Hall, who would finish with 123 yards on 16 rushes, capped the drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 5:07 remaining in the half. (Pitt’s other feature back, Qadree Ollison, gained 23 yards on five carries before leaving the game with an injury in the first quarter.)

Hall’s scoring run gave Pitt a 10-7 lead that the Panthers took into the locker room. Neither team scored until Kessman kicked a 28-yarder with 8:13 left in the third quarter, the finale of a six-play, 46-yard possession.

The Panthers’ 13-7 margin withstood a pair of short, futile Cardinal possessions. However, Stanford was able to mount a scoring drive that began on the final play of the third quarter.

The series opened with four straight Scarlett rushes, which saw the team advance 14 yards and convert its only third down of the day. (For the record: On third down and one at the Cardinal 31, the senior gained two  yards.) Stanford then turned to Costello, who connected with Arcega-Whiteside for gains of 12 and 49 yards, setting up goal to go at the Pitt 3.

The following three plays encapsulate this game’s ugliness. First, Costello attempted a throw to junior tight end Scooter Harrington; it was incomplete. Next, Costello executed the Cardinal’s signature offensive move of 2018, an end zone throw to Arcega-Whiteside; this, too, was incomplete, but like so many other such attempts, it led to a defensive pass interference penalty.

Finally, on first down at the Pitt 2, operating out of the shotgun, Costello faked a handoff to Scarlett and then tucked the ball in and attempted a keeper. But before he’d taken three steps, senior lineman Dewayne Hendrix starting wrapping up the Cardinal quarterback. As Costello went to the ground, the ball squirted out of arms and toward the end zone, where Scarlett caught it while straddling the goal line. Seen live at speed, it almost seemed as if Costello had executed a perfect shovel pass while falling; only later did the replay reveal the play to be an incredibly fortuitous fumble. Regardless, Scarlett’s zero-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown gave Stanford a 14-13 lead with 11:28 remaining in the game.

Pitt answered with an eight-play, 38-yard series that stalled at the Cardinal 37. Facing fourth and 12, Narduzzi summoned Kessman for the third time, but the redshirt sophomore understandably wasn’t able to connect on the 55-yarder.

Stanford sent its offense back onto the field with 8:13 to play, and the Cardinal had no intention of going to the air. Scarlett ran twice for five yards apiece and then added an 11-yard run before Maddox gained six yards on a pair of consecutive carries. After Scarlett was stopped at the line on third and four, Pitt called timeout with 4:36 on the clock. Bailey’s ninth punt, from the Panthers 41, was downed at the 4-yard line.

Pickett converted fourth and 11 at his own 3 with a 15-yard completion to Ffrench, but his throw on fourth and 3 at the Pitt 25 was incomplete. Shortly afterward, Wilson ran for nine yards to give Stanford a game-sealing first down, only its 12th of the contest; the Cardinal then kneeled twice to convert the 14-13 score into a bowl victory, the team’s fourth bowl win over the last five seasons.


Helpful links

Stanford-‪Pitt team statistics — ESPN
Stanford-Pitt box score
Stanford-Pitt play-by-play
Stanford-Pitt interactive box score —
Stanford-Pitt static box score —
Stanford 2018–19 football roster
Pitt 2018–19 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment

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