No. 17 Pitt rolls by No. 18 Wake Forest 45-21 for ACC title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kenny Pickett accounted for three touchdowns and Erick Hallett II returned one of Pittsburgh’s four interceptions for a touchdown to help the No. 17 Panthers beat No. 18 Wake Forest 45-21 in Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Hallett, selected the game’s MVP, had a pick-six with 11:42 left that came on the heels of A.J. Woods having a 75-yard interception return that fell only 3 yards short of taking it all the way for the score early in the fourth quarter. That was the highlight sequence in a strong defensive performance that locked up the high-scoring Demon Deacons after the opening quarter and ultimately carried the Panthers to their first ACC title since leaving the Big East in 2013.

After surrendering touchdowns on three first-quarter possessions, Pittsburgh (11-2) held Wake Forest scoreless for its last 13 drives while getting after Sam Hartman for five sacks to stymie the Demon Deacons’ tempo-controlling flow.

Wake Forest (10-3) was back in the ACC title game for the first time since winning the 2006 championship. But the Demon Deacons finished with 295 total yards, with only 109 of those coming after the opening quarter.

Hartman threw for two scores and ran for another in the opening period. But by the end of this one, Hartman was suffering through another nightmarish performance on a field about 20 minutes from his hometown in Cornelius.

He ended last year here with four interceptions in a Duke’s Mayo Bowl loss to Wisconsin, then threw for 213 yards in another four-interception performance before exiting with 8:09 left.

The third was Woods’ long return that had him weaving all over the field before being stopped inside the 5 for the longest interception return in the 17-year history of the title game to set up a short TD by Israel Abanikanda.

And on the next offensive snap, Hallett jumped in front of Hartman’s pass for Jaquarii Roberson and sprinted for the 19-yard return – extending the ball with his right arm as he crossed the goal line – and a 45-21 lead that all but wrapped up the title for Narduzzi’s Panthers.

The game offered a departure from what had become a recent tradition: watching Clemson roll past an overmatched Coastal Division champion on the way to another league title and trip to the College Football Playoff. And going back a decade, either Clemson or Florida State had been in this game as the Atlantic Division champion before Wake Forest finally interrupted that run this year.

This game began with a high-revving show of four straight touchdown drives between the two teams, including a dazzling 58-yard scoring run by Pickett on the first in which he stutter-stepped near the 40 as though he was going to slide then took off around pulling-up defenders the rest of the way to the end zone.

Wake Forest led 21-14 when Hartman hit Taylor Morin on a contested TD catch near the left pylon. But after that, Pittsburgh’s defense started getting to Hartman more often while the secondary that found itself under early duress began to hold up against those deep throws.

Sam Scarton’s 41-yard field goal gave Pitt a 24-21 lead at the break, then Abanikanda scored from 12 yards out around the right side late in the third to make it a two-possession lead and send the Panthers on their way.


Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons just couldn’t add another milestone in a what had become a special season full of them under eighth-year coach Dave Clawson, including the highest AP Top 25 ranking in program history (No. 10 in early November) and the program’s best-ever start (8-0).

Pittsburgh: The Panthers had reached the ACC title game in 2018 before losing a blowout loss to Clemson. They’re leaving Charlotte this time with the program’s first ACC title after sharing the Big East title in 2004 and 2010.


Both programs must wait to learn where they will play a bowl game.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.