The first-time starter picked up more confidence as that first game wore on. Instead of being exhausted from his first start, by game's end, he wanted more.
All the factors facing Tino Sunseri in his first start at Utah should have worn him out by the end of the fourth quarter--the change in altitude, facing constant pressure from Utah's defense all night, debuting on the road in a tough atmosphere, and the regular physicality that it takes to play the game for 60 minutes.
"He gained some confidence as the game went on," head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "That's one of the intangibles that he has, that some of the people that don't understand what goes into playing that position, without recognizing."
The confidence was noticeable by the coaches, but more importantly, it was just showing through. After a 19-yard completion to Mike Shanahan, which set the Panthers at the Utah 14 yard-line, on the game-tying field goal drive, Pitt called time out. As Sunseri walked over to the sideline, his lips could be read on TV, as he said, 'Put this on my back.' Though he describes a lot of what happened last Thursday, in great detail, he was in such a zone, that he can't recall what he said.
"I think I was more in that zone--I don't remember saying it, but I wouldn't change that, and I want the ball in my hands again," Sunseri said. "I didn't see that on tape, but I definitely heard from a lot of people who saw it on TV. It's one of those things where you're in the zone, you just want the ball in your hands as a quarterback."
Entering the fourth quarter, Sunseri completed 8-of-14 passes for 57 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Not a bad start, but he wasn't being effective enough for the Panthers to win. In the fourth quarter, however, he completed 8-of-13 passes for 127 yards, a touchdown pass, and a total of three scoring drives to send Pitt to overtime. When exactly did the confidence factor set in?
"I'd say in regulation," Sunseri said. "Everybody said that I needed to be experienced. It does go a long way; being able to look back on the game, see what you did in certain situations, and see where guys are sometimes open (if) you didn‘t get them the ball, and next time you will."
One player who had faith in Sunseri all along, was receiver Jon Baldwin. Baldwin, of course, had two catches for eight yards before Sunseri's confidence soared. On the touchdown-scoring drive of the fourth quarter, all four plays of the drive went through Baldwin, including the two-point conversion.
"I'm pretty sure Coach Cignetti will get things worked out (mixing up the number of runs and the number of passes)," Baldwin said. "That was (Sunseri's) first game. He had never been in an environment like that. As the game progressed, he started getting more comfortable, and making a lot more plays."
Though Wannstedt, and Baldwin--the head of the receiver corps--seem to have a newfound level of confidence in the starting quarterback, Sunseri says that kind of confidence is all part of earning the starting job.
"I love being under the spotlight," Sunseri said. "That's the kind of player I think I am. Whenever you want to be the best, you have to play the best. Utah's definitely a good team, and I wouldn't have wanted to start off any other way. I thought our team was ready for it. We played well, except for a couple mistakes. I wouldn't have changed it."