October 13, 2006

Punt-less Pitt pounds Central Florida, 52-7

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ORLANDO, Fla. - LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns to help Pittsburgh rout Central Florida 52-7 on Friday night.

It was the Panthers' fourth straight win, and their 6-1 start is the school's best since a Dan Marino-led squad opened 7-0 in 1982.

Pitt led from the opening kickoff, which Lowell Robinson returned 97 yards for a touchdown. The Panthers were up 14-0 after 1:02 and 38-0 at halftime. They had been averaging 35.7 points, 11th best in the country, and didn't punt a single time Friday.

The Panthers' Tyler Palko, who entered the game with a 191.32 efficiency rating (second best in NCAA Division I), completed 11 of 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

Four of UCF's six first-half possessions ended in turnovers, though the Panthers seemed to have their toughest time with a short field.

Palko engineered touchdown drives of 86 yards and 93 yards, helped by a defense keying on the quick and shifty Stephens-Howling. But the Panthers ended two possessions that began with Golden Knights turnovers at their opponents' 20 and 32 with a field goal and missed field goal, respectively.

The second kick came as the clock ticked off to halftime, when despite a 38-point lead, Pitt pushed for a TD.

Stephens-Howling, a sophomore who before last week at Syracuse had only 207 yards on 56 carries on the season, stole the show. He ripped off touchdown runs of 23 and 26 yards in the first half, the second of them untouched by a UCF defender, and consistently eluded tackles by changing direction.

He was the Big East player of the week after gaining 221 yards on 27 carries against Syracuse last week.

Both Stephens-Howling and Palko sat out the fourth quarter.

Stephen Moffett struggled for the Knights, fumbling at midfield on the first possession and throwing an interception that interrupted a first-half drive at the Pitt 9. Coach George O'Leary pulled him in the second quarter in favor of junior Kyle Israel, who finally led UCF on its first scoring drive with 14 seconds left in the third. Central Florida converted three fourth downs on the drive before Kevin Smith scampered a yard for a touchdown.

Moffett was 5-for-10 for 52 yards and one interception, while Israel finished with 158 yards on 13-of-19 passing.

UCF rushing leader Smith carried 20 times for 70 yards.

The loss continues a string of disappointment for UCF (2-4), which entered the season off its first bowl game appearance. The Knights are 0-8 against Big East teams.

For more coverage of the Pitt Panthers, check out PantherLair.com; for more coverage of the UCF Knights, check out UCFSports.com.


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