By Annie Ross
Andy Talley’s final year as Villanova’s head coach got off to a rocky start yesterday as:
James Conner caught one touchdown and ran for another in his return from a battle with cancer to lead Pittsburgh to a 28-7 win over the Wildcats at Heinz Field.
The 2014 ACC Player of the Year sprinted onto the Heinz Field turf in front of a crowd that included his family, the doctors that treated him during his seven-month tussle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and more than 300 friends and family from his hometown of Erie.
Conner’s first official carry in 364 days went for minus-1 yard but was met by a standing ovation. He eventually found his footing to help the shaky Panthers avoid an upset at the hands of the Cats.
Conner raced around the left end for a 3-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter then added a 9-yard touchdown catch, a difficult grab in traffic across the middle. He finished with 53 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 16 yards as Pitt avoided an embarrassing slip-up a week before a highly anticipated showdown with Penn State.
Quadree Henderson returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards for a score to break things open. Nate Peterman completed 19 of 32 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, including a pretty 16-yard lob to Jester Weah with six minutes to go.
The Wildcats controlled play for portions of the first half, but three straight drives into Pitt territory failed to produce any points, giving the Panthers time to get going. Rob Rolle returned a Peterman fumble 3 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter for Villanova’s only score.