DURHAM, N.C. — Too much has been trending in the right direction the past couple of seasons for Duke to let that fade away.
The Blue Devils got it right to end the regular season as Grayson Loftis threw for two touchdowns and Duke snapped a two-game skid by defeating Pittsburgh 30-19 to secure a second straight winning season Saturday.
“It feels amazing,” said Duke defensive end R.J. Oben, one of about three dozen seniors recognized prior to the game. “Winning is never to be taken for granted.”
Loftis threw for 248 yards, with 106 of those to Jordan Moore and 71 to Jalon Calhoun. Both those receivers had touchdown receptions as Duke (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) completed its first undefeated conference home slate since 1989.
“You can’t let somebody come to your house and take what is yours,” Calhoun said.
Second-year coach Mike Elko praised the senior class for sticking through adverse times with the Blue Devils.
“I don’t know if you can put a measure on what a remarkable turnaround that is,” he said.
Nate Yarnell threw for two touchdowns and an interception for the Panthers (3-9, 2-6), who went winless in six games away from home. Pitt never won consecutive games this year.
“Our seniors wanted to go out winners,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I feel bad for those guys.”
The Panthers scored on Yarnell’s 14-yard throw to Bub Means with 5:17 left, then failed on a two-point pass play to leave the score at 27-19. Todd Pelino’s 48-yard field goal for Duke sealed the victory.
Pitt went 5-for-7 on third-down conversions by midway through the second quarter and then was 0-for-6 after that.
“We settled in a rhythm and started playing the defense we’re capable of,” Elko said.
Duke pulled even at 10-10 late in the first half, needing only 25 yards after a poor Pitt punt. Loftis threw for 10 yards to Jordan Moore in the end zone.
It was 13-13 late in the third quarter when Loftis connected with Calhoun for a 15-yard touchdown. Jaquez Moore’s 3-yard run with 11:54 remaining gave the Blue Devils a 27-13 edge.
Pelino opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal. Ben Sauls tied it for Pitt later in the first quarter with a 35-yarder.
The Panthers drove 93 yards in 15 plays to score on Karter Johnson’s 21-yard catch, fending off a would-be tackle for the final few yards.
Calhoun became the fourth player in Duke history with 3,000 receiving yards with a 32-yard gain on the last play of the third quarter.
Pitt running back Daniel Carter was ejected less than two minutes into the game for targeting during punt coverage.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers were hoping to take momentum into the offseason after knocking off Boston College in the home finale, but the Panthers couldn’t generate enough sustained offense. The game concluded the worst season in nine years under Narduzzi.
“We had opportunities down there offensively to convert and we didn’t convert,” Narduzzi said. “It’s frustrating whether it’s the beginning of the year or the end of the year.”
Duke: The Blue Devils won for just the second time in six games to put a positive spin on a season that began with four consecutive victories. They won two of four games with Loftis, a true freshman who had been the third-stringer a month ago, at the controls after injuries to quarterbacks Riley Leonard and Henry Belin IV.
“He’s getting there very quickly,” Elko said of Loftis’ progress.
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