PITTSBURGH (AP) — Qadree Ollison looked at the line of scrimmage, looked at the Virginia Tech end zone 97 long yards away and turned to good friend and fellow Pittsburgh running back Darrin Hall.
"I asked him if he thought I could run that far and he was like, 'I don't know,'" Ollison said with a laugh.
The answer unfolded over 17 seconds that began with textbook blocking at the snap, included a vicious stiff-arm at midfield and ended with Ollison flipping across the goal line to finish off the longest offensive play in the program's 114-year history to provide a giddy exclamation point as the Panthers took a massive step toward their first ACC Coastal Division title with a dominant 52-22 victory over the reeling Hokies on Saturday.
"It was perfect," Ollison said after finishing with 235 yards and three touchdowns. "It parted like the Red Sea and as a running back it's my job to make a guy miss. It's my job to run a guy over, not let one guy tackle you and after (breaking free), I did."
Yet it's what happened in the immediate aftermath that the Panthers believe speaks volumes about their team and the bond Ollison and Hall have formed over the last four years while taking turns atop the depth chart. Ollison's record-breaking sprint broke the previous record of 92 yards set by Hall set last season against Duke. And Hall couldn't have been happier.
"I'm glad he got it," said Hall after running for 186 yards and a touchdown of his own on Senior Day. "It's a blessing because he deserves it for everything he's done for this university."
The Panthers (6-4, 5-1 ACC) rolled up a school-record 654 total yards, 492 coming on the ground, the second-most ever given up by the Hokies (4-5, 3-3).
"Obviously, we had trouble and they ran the ball awfully well," Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said. "Kind of a weird deal ... we didn't play as well as we would've liked to."
Ryan Willis threw for 231 yards and three touchdowns for the Hokies (4-5, 3-3), two of them to Eric Kumah, but Virginia Tech's defense offered little resistance. A season that began with such promise now finds the Hokies needing to win each of their final two games if they want to extend their bowl streak to 26 seasons.
"It's not foremost in my mind," Fuente said. "I've got plenty of other things to worry about right now."
Pitt's concerns are far different. The team that found itself floundering at 2-3 at the end of September after getting blown out by Central Florida now needs to win just one of its final two games to earn a trip to the ACC title game on the first Saturday in December.
"I know everyone wanted to jump ship after that (UCF) game but there was no doubt in my mind," Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett said. "We showed it with our play and how confident we are in each other."
Despite the stakes, the Panthers insisted they were focused on avenging a 20-14 loss at Virginia Tech last November. Pitt had four chances from just outside the goal line in the final seconds to pull out the victory at Lane Stadium only to get stopped short, a setback that ultimately prevented the Panthers from earning a bowl bid.
Still, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said he wasn't worried about his team's ability to deliver if put in a similar spot, and the Panthers spent four quarters putting on a clinic. Hall and Ollison spent most of the afternoon roaring through gaping holes and responding in the second half whenever Virginia Tech attempted to get back in it.
"Whatever we wanted, we got," Pickett said. "So it was a good day."
Virginia Tech: The Hokies don't appear interested in tackling anybody. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster hoped his young group would have learned after getting run over in losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College. Instead it was more of the same. Pitt's offensive line bullied Virginia Tech on a day the Panthers averaged 13.9 yards per play.
Pitt: The Panthers have developed a hard-earned reputation for stumbling when given an opportunity to produce a true breakthrough moment. It looked like the latest edition of "Pitt-ing" might come in the second quarter when Pickett fumbled going into the end zone, Virginia Tech recovered for a touchback and then went down and scored to draw within 17-7. This time, however, the Panthers didn't panic. Pickett directed two touchdown drives before the end of the first half to put the Panthers up 31-7 at the break. The Hokies never drew closer than 16 the rest of the way.
Virginia Tech: Welcomes Miami to Lane Stadium next Saturday.
Pitt: Travels to Wake Forest next Saturday in the first meeting between the two schools since Pitt joined the ACC in 2013.
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