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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett has the records — and now he has an Atlantic Coast Conference championship to go along with it.
Pickett’s ascent to a likely Heisman Trophy candidate and a prospective first-round NFL draft pick took another big step forward as he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a 58-yard score, helping Pittsburgh defeat Wake Forest 45-21 on Saturday night and giving the Panthers their first ACC title.
Along the way, Pickett set two passing records.
Pickett’s first touchdown pass of the game, a 22-yard toss on a swing pass to Rodney Hammond in the first quarter, broke Dan Marino’s school record of 79 career TD passes.
Pickett’s second TD pass, a 4-yard toss to Jared Wayne in the second quarter on a slant route, established an ACC record for touchdown passes in a season with 42, eclipsing the mark of 41 set by Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in 2016.
By midway through the fourth quarter, Pitt fans were chanting “Kenny Heisman.”
Alabama's Bryce Young is considered the heavy favorite to win the award, especially after he led the Crimson Tide to a big win against No. 1-ranked Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game earlier Saturday. But Pickett will get some consideration, something few expected when the Panthers were picked to finish fourth in the ACC's Coastal Division at the beginning of the season.
The recently named ACC Player of the Year got a huge assist Saturday night from his defense, which made adjustments in the second quarter and held the Demon Deacons scoreless on their 13 offensive possessions after spotting them three touchdowns and a 21-14 lead to open the game. The Panthers defense intercepted Sam Hartman four times and sacked him five times.
Pickett displayed all of the qualities of an NFL prospect, showing a strong arm to make difficult throws on out-routes, quality decision making and the ability to make plays when the pocket breaks down.
He also showed he has some tricks up his sleeve.
On the game's opening possession, Pickett escaped a pass rush and ran for a first down. As a defensive back approached, Pickett faked as if he was going to slide, but then stayed on his feet and ran another 40 yards for a touchdown, igniting the Pitt crowd.
Pickett relied heavily on his favorite receiver Jordan Addison, who finished with eight catches for 126 yards. Addison entered the game with 17 TD catches for the nation's fourth-highest scoring offense.
Israel Abanaikanda helped out with two rushing touchdowns.
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Steve Reed, The Associated Press