After dropping three straight games and watching a 17-7 lead slip away in the second half, the Blue Devils still had a chance deep in Pittsburgh territory to score a game-tying touchdown with less than a minute left.

Tight end Daniel Helm got his left hand on a pass over the middle at about the 10-yard line, but could not corral it, as the ball popped into the air for Panther defensive back Jordan Whitehead to intercept it. For the third week in a row, a promising Duke drive in the waning moments had come up short.

Pittsburgh handed the Blue Devils their fourth straight loss by a score of 24-17 at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday. Duke was scoreless in the fourth quarter and had several missed opportunities to put points on the board. After the Panthers gifted the Blue Devils a second chance by committing a pass interference penalty on fourth-and-23 with eight minutes left, Austin Parker missed a 36-yard field goal that would have cut it to one, his second failed attempt of the day.

Pittsburgh added a field goal on its ensuing drive, and Duke could not respond with a touchdown, blowing a double-digit lead for the first time since 2014.

“We’ve been trying to find answers. Obviously, not enough of them have been found,” Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “At times, what we’ve done is created ourselves new problems.”

Duke (4-4, 1-4 in the ACC) was uncharacteristically sloppy throughout the game, committing seven penalties—including three on offsides during special teams opportunities.

And the Blue Devils had no answer for a complex Panthers rushing attack that featured pre-snap motion on nearly every play. Junior running back Darrin Hall busted free for two touchdowns of at least 75 yards—including a program-record 92-yard score to cut into the 10-point deficit in the third quarter—and tacked on another in the fourth quarter to give Pittsburgh (3-5, 1-3) the lead it never relinquished. Hall finished the day with 254 rushing yards on 24 carries.

“We practice [our run defense] every day,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “They’re very good backs, and if you give them a little space, they’re going to break away.”

Hall’s third touchdown did not come without controversy, though. After completing a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Jester Weah to kickstart the go-ahead seven-play, 95-yard drive, Panthers’ quarterback Ben DiNucci looked for Weah once again down the middle of the field. 

But with sophomore cornerback Mark Gilbert right on Weah’s hip, the two went up for the ball and battled to the ground. Eventually, the pass was ruled a 49-yard catch on simultaneous possession, moving the ball into the red zone, despite video evidence seemingly showing Gilbert initially catching the ball.

“I didn’t think it was simultaneous possession. I wanted to know who caught it, simultaneous, because that’s non-reviewable,” Cutcliffe said. “Unless I don’t see things right, the jumbotron didn’t look simultaneous. It looked as if Mark Gilbert caught the ball and it was wrestled to a tie.”

Earlier in the game, Jones struggled to get into a rhythm, throwing for just 59 yards in the first half. Just when the Blue Devils seemed to get their offense going with two consecutive penalties, Jones was hit from behind by Pittsburgh cornerback Avonte Maddox and coughed up the ball, with the Panthers recovering.

But Jones hit his stride in the third quarter. 

After getting a defensive stop out of halftime, Jones found a wide-open Wilson up the seam, and Wilson scampered 58 yards for a touchdown to give Duke its first lead of the game at 10-7. Wilson was uncovered from the start of the play, as a defensive miscommunication helped Jones make an easy throw for his first touchdown in two weeks.

Jones then continued his hot start to the second half with a 39-yard touchdown toss to junior wide receiver T.J. Rahming, who led the Blue Devils with eight receptions and 142 yards. But Duke never scored again and could not maintain the advantage.

The Blue Devils will look to bounce back next Saturday at 7:20 p.m. at No. 14 Virginia Tech.

“We’re not a high-performing football team right now,” Cutcliffe said. “We need more from me. They’re getting ready to get a whole lot of me.”