Pittsburgh stuns Virginia Tech 31-28

With an ESPN national TV audience and a sold out, standing room only crowd of 66,207 watching, the Panthers rallied for one of their biggest wins in recent history. Led by local Pittsburgh natives Rod Rutherford and Lousaka Polite, and the always-spectacular Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt has sent an ACC-bound conference rival packing with a loss two consecutive weeks.

In a game that featured many big plays, hard hits, and turnovers, Pitt would not be denied. With the Panthers clinging to a 17-14 lead at halftime, they looked to have taken the lead for good with an 11-yard TD pass from Rod Rutherford to Kris Wilson. That built the Pittsburgh lead to 24-14 but it wouldn't last. Just when you though you could relax, Virginia Tech superstar RB Kevin Jones broke an 80-yard TD run and then the Hokies capitalized on a long pass play to take a 28-24 lead.

But after several key defensive stands, including a 4th down stop, the Panther offense took over and put together a beautiful 70-yard drive. Rutherford hit Fitzgerald on three key pass plays to get the ball down to the 4-yard line, and then Pitt used a pounding running game with Tim Murphy and Lousaka Polite to finish VT off. On a big third and two play, Lousaka Polite was hit at the line of scrimmage, then powered forward carrying two defenders into the end-zone for the winning score.

Pitt was led by Rod Rutherford who finished 24 of 31 for 303 yards and 1 TD. He also added a rushing touchdown. Rutherford played a mistake-free game and made big plays with his arm as well as his legs. Larry Fitzgerald had another excellent game as he pushed his NCAA consecutive TD receiving record to 15 games. He set the tempo by catching a 41-yard pass on the first play of the game and was key in the final drive that resulted in a Panther victory.

Kris Wilson shook off a dropped TD pass in the end-zone and a fumble after a big catch to lead the Panthers in receiving with 6 catches for 111 yards. Princell Brockenbrough also stepped up despite playing on a damaged knee and sprained ankle. Brockenbrough finished with 5 catches for 60 yards.

Kevin Jones had an outstanding game for the Hokies, finishing with 241 yards on 30 carries and 4 TD's. He showed why he is one of the best RB's in the country as he displayed great speed and even better moves. VT changed QB's early in the game and went with Michael Vick the rest of the way. Vick finished with a solid 8 of 15 for 47 passing yards and 22 yards on 8 carries on the ground, but his two interceptions proved costly.

The Panthers struggled at times on defense, but they made many big plays also. Brian Bennett and Corey Humphries delivered big fumble-causing hits and Humphries also added the interception that sealed the game. Lewis Moore also had a key interception that stopped a threatening VT drive before the half the half ended. In a key element of the game, Pitt matched VT's special teams play and did not suffer any blocked kicks in the game.

The Panthers improved to 7-2 on the season and 4-0 in the Big East Conference. They are in first place in the conference with three games remaining. This sets up a key showdown next week at West Virginia that has a possible BCS berth on the line. The game will once again be shown on national TV on ESPN2 and is set for 7pm in Morgantown. Pitt is ranked #16 in the country per the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

Brian Gold

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