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Alex Kessman didn’t quite invoke 90’s hip-hop icons A Tribe Called Quest before attempting a 56-yard field goal in the fourth quarter at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but the sentiment was the same. Rather than asking Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi “Can I kick it?” the redshirt freshman placekicker was a bit more imperative:
“Hey Coach, let me hit it,” Kessman recalled saying.
The situation was this: the third quarter between Pitt and Syracuse had just ended with the Panthers trailing the Orange 20-13. On the final play of the quarter, quarterback Ben DiNucci threw a shovel pass to tight end Matt Flanagan that gained one yard, and Pitt faced fourth-and-6 from the Syracuse 38.
As time ticked down, Narduzzi sent out the punt team. But the clock hit zero before the ball could be snapped, creating a fortuitous delay for Kessman. Because as the team got ready for the fourth quarter, a teammate pointed out that the 38-yard line wasn’t exactly out of range.
“Another player came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think we should punt this; I think we should kick it,’” Kessman said Tuesday. So he took the message to Narduzzi.
“So I ran out there and said, ‘Hey Coach, let me hit it, let me hit it.’ He said, ‘How far is it?’ I said, ’56.’ He stopped and thought about it for a second and said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’
“I always love those long kicks so I was ready to go. I was glad the quarter ended so I could go out there.”
The ball had been spotted in the middle of the field, so Kessman had a direct shot at the goal posts. He had already made two kicks in the game, including a 49-yarder in the second quarter that probably would have cleared the 56 yards he was lining up for to start the fourth quarter.
Syracuse wasn’t buying that he had the leg, though, sending a player to stand in the end zone on the chance the kick fell short. And it nearly did, as the ball hit the crossbar - and bounced over for the longest field goal in Carrier Dome history.
“I didn’t hit it as clean as I wanted to; I kind of got under it,” Kessman said. “It was right down the middle, so it was either short or it was good. Everyone ran down with their hands up and I was like, ‘Uh oh; you gotta go a little bit.’ And it bounced through and I was pretty excited.”
The kick was the longest of Kessman’s career - which consists of the last six games - but the second time he has made a 50-yarder this season. He also converted a 55-yard kick at Georgia Tech, and he’s now hit 2-of-3 from 50-plus.
Kessman’s other two field goals at Syracuse - one from 49 yards, one from 42 - also improved his stats in the 40-49 range to 2-of-3, so on the season, he has hit 4-of-6 from 40-plus yards.
“Every time I’m out there, it’s my play; I have to go out there and do my job,” he said. “So I’m always ready to go and I’m always anxious to get out there and ready to get out there. I’m excited for those kicks.”
The next goal for Kessman is to make a kick at home. He has attempted three field goals at Heinz Field this season - a 28-yard kick and a 38-yard kick against Youngstown State and a 49-yarder against Oklahoma State - and has missed on all three.
“It’s just unfortunate that I haven’t hit one at Heinz,” Kessman said. “I have to keep doing my job and like [former Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt] always used to say, we’re the last piece of the puzzle; as long as we do our job and help the team win, we hope for the best.”
While Kessman’s season success rate is currently at 60% - he has hit 6-of-10 - the ACC Specialist of the Week said that he knows his teammates have had his back throughout the season, even when his first two kicks were off the mark.
“They always believed in me. They never lost faith in me. Coach Narduzzi even said it to you guys: ‘We still trust him, we still have faith in him.’ I never lost faith in myself. But they were kind of teasing me - ‘Big 56,’ ‘ACC Specialist’ - but besides the teasing and all of that, they were excited for me, they were proud of me and the biggest thing is they trust me.
Kessman added that he doesn’t plan to lobby Narduzzi every time Pitt’s offense gets inside the 40, but he’ll make sure the Pitt coach knows he’s ready.
“You can only change someone’s mind so much. He’s going to kick when he wants to kick and I’ll sit in his back pocket if it’s a long one and say, ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m here.’”