Panthers reach .500 for first time under Wannstedt

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Tyler Palko ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in Pittsburgh's second comeback victory in as many games, and the Panthers became the latest team to benefit from Syracuse's ongoing stream of turnovers in a 34-17 victory Saturday.

A week after falling behind South Florida by 10 points before winning 31-17, Pitt (4-4, 3-1 in Big East) followed the same pattern in a turnover-filled first half by trailing 17-7 before scoring 27 consecutive points behind Palko's passing and freshman LaRod Stephens-Howling's running. Stephens-Howling, who is 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, ran for 101 yards in his first career 100-yard game and has 192 yards in two games.

Pittsburgh is .500 for the first time under new coach Dave Wannstedt, beating Cincinnati, South Florida and Syracuse after losing four of five. The Panthers must win two of their final three -- against Louisville, Connecticut and West Virginia -- to retain any hopes of going to a sixth consecutive bowl game.

Syracuse (1-6, 0-4) has lost five in a row during its worst season since going 2-9 in 1982, when it also dropped six of its first seven. The Orange again had too little offense and too many turnovers, with four interceptions and a fumble a week after losing five fumbles in a 31-9 loss to Rutgers. The Orange have 19 turnovers in seven games.

The Orange benefited from three early Pitt turnovers and a blocked punt -- the second against Pitt in as many games -- to open their 17-7 lead, but the Panthers tied it by scoring 10 points in the final 1:42 of the first half.

Palko, who threw an interception and lost a fumble during a first half that featured a combined seven turnovers, found Derek Kinder on an 11-yard scoring pass to make it 17-14 after J.J. Horne intercepted a Perry Patterson pass. Kinder made eight catches for
81 yards. Josh Cummings kicked a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie it and later made a 30-yarder.

Patterson went 9-of-25 for 89 yards and three interceptions and was replaced briefly by Joe Fields, who was intercepted on his only attempt.

Pitt sustained a drive for the first time early in the third quarter, driving 60 yards on seven plays for Palko's 2-yard touchdown run and a 24-17 lead. Previously, 17 of the first 19 possessions by the teams ended in five plays or fewer, partly because both teams kept turning the ball over on a breezy, wet day. A light rain that fell during the first half picked up during the second half, when Pitt scored the only two touchdowns.

After Syracuse missed a field-goal attempt, Palko found Greg Lee on a 37-yard completion to the Syracuse 7 before running it in himself from the 1 early in the fourth quarter for the junior quarterback's first career two-touchdown game. Palko was 18-of-28 for 201 yards and has thrown for five touchdowns and run for four during Pitt's three-game winning streak.

Stephens-Howling's 100-yard game was only the second this season for Pitt. Rashad Jennings ran for 102 yards against Cincinnati.

Last year, Pitt lost two of its first four before rallying to win six of its final seven, losing only to Syracuse on the road, and gain the Big East's automatic BCS bowl game invitation.


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