Pittsburgh Panthers Team Report

It wasn't always pretty, but here are the Pittsburgh Panthers just where many had predicted them to be: On top of the Big East standings and in control of their own fate following Saturday night's 31-28 victory over Virginia Tech.

With a 4-0 league record, they are the only team without a blemish in league play and can win their first title by winning out against West Virginia on Saturday in Morgantown, at Temple, and against Miami at home. In fact, a victory over the Mountaineers likely would set up a showdown against the Hurricanes for the league title Nov. 29 at Heinz Field, no matter how the Panthers fare against the Owls. The Hurricanes are 3-1 in league play.

"I'm kind of speechless," said coach Walt Harris, whose team stumbled early in the season at Toledo and lost at home to Notre Dame before beginning their current four-game winning streak.

The Panthers and Hokies engaged in a classic slugfest with big plays and turnovers playing their usual critical role.

Virginia Tech lost an opportunity for an early 11-point cushion when, leading 7-3, the Hokies drove deep into Pittsburgh territory but lost the ball on RB Kevin Jones' fumble at the 7. The Panthers lost a chance for 10-point halftime bulge when QB Rod Rutherford's pass in the end zone bounced off TE Kris Wilson's chest into LB Michael Baaqee's hands.

For the night, Rutherford went 24-for-31 for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns, plus an additional 30 yards rushing. He had a critical 12-yard run on the Panthers' final touchdown drive and scored a touchdown on a 2-yard rush. The interception off Wilson was his only one of the game. Wilson later caught a TD pass, however. The Panthers continue to impress with their passing game.

Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald had a big night, catching his 17th touchdown pass of the season -- an NCAA record -- in the second quarter. It extended his NCAA record streak of games with a TD reception to 15.

Jawan Walker had 59 yards rushing on 11 carries, plus an 8-yard reception, for the Panthers. The sophomore RB seems to be stepping it up since being thrust into the starting job in place of injured Brandon Miree.

Jones countered with a monster game that included a school-record 241 yards rushing. He had an 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter just when Pittsburgh had taken a 10-point lead. The Hokies stung the Pittsburgh defense for 269 yards rushing, taking big advantage of the Panthers' sloppy tackling and apparent confusion in some of their schemes.

After the game Harris said, "Kevin Jones is fast. Marcus Vick -- wow! But somehow our guys did it," referring to Virginia Tech's star running back and quarterback.

The game was decided when Pittsburgh took over at its 30 yard line with 4:10 left. Rutherford found Fitzgerald for two completions that gobbled up 40 yards, then after an incompletion, he ran to the 18 on second-and-10. By the time the Panthers were facing third-and-goal at the Tech 2 yard line, only 54 seconds remained. FB Lousaka Polite got the crucial score, carrying two defenders into the end zone. DB Corey Humphries clinched it when he picked off QB Marcus Vick's first-down pass on the ensuing series.

"You just witnessed one of the all-time great games," Harris said when it was over.

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