10 Most Memorable Pittsburgh Panthers Football Games at Heinz Field

John BaranowskiCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2011

10 Most Memorable Pittsburgh Panthers Football Games at Heinz Field

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    Since Heinz Field opened in 2001 there have been some great and memorable football games played there. In looking back at the past 10 years and the games Pitt has played there, a few things immediately come to mind: The two coaching regimes during that time for the Panthers, first Walt Harris and then Dave Wannstedt, the great skill players that Pitt has produced, the outstanding individual performances and the excitement and heartbreak of some of the most exciting games in Pitt football history. 

    Presenting the list of Pitt’s 10 most memorable games at Heinz Field...

Honorable Mention: October 26, 2002: Pitt 19 Boston College 16 in Overtime

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    David Abdul kicked his fourth field goal of the day, a 42-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Pittsburgh Panthers over the Boston College Eagles. Pittsburgh quarterback Rod Rutherford finished 20-of-38 for 201 yards passing in the victory. The Eagles (4-3, 0-3) were led by Brian St. Pierre who completed 18-of-34 pass attempts for 179 yards with a touchdown.

    The Panthers took a 10-3 lead in the first quarter when Rutherford connected with Larry Fitzgerald on a seven-yard touchdown pass.    

    The Eagles, trailing 13-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, scored 10 unanswered points to take a 16-13 lead.  Abdul knotted the affair at 16-16 when he kicked a 30-yard field goal with just five seconds left on the clock to send the game into overtime.

    After Abdul had made his fourth field goal in overtime, Boston College kicker Sandro Sciortino had an opportunity to tie the game in the first extra session but his 39-yard kick missed wide left.

Honorable Mention: September 18, 2004 – Nebraska 24 Pitt 17

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    Pitt Quarterback Tyler Palko threw for 228 yards on 22-of-45 passing and had a touchdown, but Pittsburgh fell to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 24-17, before a crowd of 40,133 at Heinz Field.

    Palko threw two interceptions in the first quarter and the Cornhuskers capitalized and jumped out to a 10-0 lead. The Panthers got on the board when Marcus Furman went 96 yards on a kickoff return to cut Nebraska’s lead to 10-7.

    Nebraska would score twice in the second quarter and took a 24-10 lead into halftime.  A Palko to Greg Lee 34-yard scoring pass cut the Huskers lead to 24-17 with less than five minutes to go in the game. 

    Pitt got the ball back one last time and got inside Nebraska’s 20-yard line but on the game’s final play Palko’s last ditch pass was batted down in the end zone. 

Honorable Mention: Nov. 28, 2008 Pitt 19 West Virginia 15

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    Pitt running back LeSean McCoy rushed for a career-high 183 yards and scored his second touchdown with 52 seconds left to lift Pitt to a 19-15 win over West Virginia. McCoy carried the football on nine of 10 play game-winning 59-yard drive.

    Pitt scored the game’s first touchdown in the first quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bill Stull to Derek Kinder. In the third quarter, West Virginia quarterback Pat White scored on a 54-yard run that put West Virginia ahead 12-7. Another Mountaineer field goal extended West Virginia’s lead to 15-7. McCoy would rush for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter which proved to be the difference in Pitt’s win over rival West Virginia.  

Honorable Mention: October 16, 2004: Pitt 20 Boston College 17 in Overtime

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    More so than the outcome, this one is remembered for one singular play and not even a scoring one at that. This game is remembered because Pitt sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko lowered a shoulder and got the better of Boston College cornerback Peter Shean on the sideline, knocking Shean’s helmet off his head and leaving Shean lying on the ground flat on his back. The hit inspired Pitt to become even more physical against the Eagles. 

    Boston College quarterback Paul Peterson kept moving the chains for the Eagles completing 32 of 53 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns but Pitt was able to hold  BC to three points on two possessions inside their five-yard line.

    The Eagles had to settle for a field goal on the opening drive in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-goal, Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis tackled BC’s Grant Adams at the one-yard line to prevent a touchdown.

    Pitt kicker Josh Cummings kicked a 27-yard field goal in overtime and Boston College turned the ball over on their possession giving Pitt the upset win.

10. Nov. 25, 2004: Pitt 16 West Virginia 13

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    A game that wasn’t particularly well played was made memorable by the leadership that Pitt sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko displayed. He lead the Panthers on a game-winning 73-yard fourth quarter drive culminating in a Palko 2-yard touchdown run.     

    West Virginia led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and the Panthers answered back with two Josh Cummings field goals to cut West Virginia’s lead to 10-6.

    With 10 minutes left in the game and Pitt trailing 13-9, Palko drove Pitt down to the West Virginia 10-yard line. Panthers’ wide out Greg Lee had three catches for 38 yards on the drive and on the night had eight receptions for 124 yards. After a pass interference call in the end zone, Palko took matters into his own hands and ran in for the winning touchdown with four minutes remaining and Pitt leading 16-13.

    The Mountaineers then drove to Pitt’s 33-yard line, but on a fourth-and-five situation West Virginia elected not to try the long field goal, and the Panthers’ defense held on for the 16-13 Panther victory.

    West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall rushed for 118 yards while Panther running back Tim Murphy gained 106 yards on 20 carries.

9. October 11, 2003 Notre Dame 20 Pittsburgh 14

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    Pitt came in 3-1, ranked no. 14 in the country and fresh off a win over Texas A&M the week before. Notre Dame came in with a 1-3 record, having lost three straight games to Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. All that mattered not as a then record crowd of 66,421 watched on as Notre Dame dominated the game on offense with their running attack. 

    The Fighting Irish came into the game ranked 109th in the nation in rushing but one would have never  known it watching Notre Dame running back Julius Jones set an all-time single game Irish rushing record with 262 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns.  Notre Dame finished with 352 yards rushing to only eight rushing yards for Pitt.  

    Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford kept Pitt in the game on offense.  Rutherford came into the game leading the nation in passing efficiency and threw two first half touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald; however, the Irish held Fitzgerald without a catch in the second half.  

8. November 29, 2003: Miami 28 Pitt 14

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    In a game that was eagerly anticipated, no. 20 Pitt was playing in its biggest game in a long time facing no. 10 Miami with first place in the Big East at stake.  

    The game started off well for the Panthers. In the first quarter, Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford hit Kris Wilson in the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead. It was all Miami after that as Miami responded with 28 unanswered points. Tyrone Moss scored touchdowns of 30, and six yards to give the Hurricanes a 14-7 halftime lead.

    In the second half, the Hurricanes continued to extend their lead and went up 28-7, sending many of the crowd of 60,486 in attendance towards the exits early. Miami running backs Moss and Jarrett Payton both rushed for over 100 yards through the Panthers porous run defense.

    It was a rough night for Rutherford, who was sacked nine times and threw three interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald, having one of the best seasons in college football history for a wide receiver, didn’t catch a pass till early in the third quarter and was held to just three catches for only 26 yards. 

    The Panthers had one second half highlight that came late in the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rutherford to extend his consecutive games with a touchdown streak to an NCAA record 18 games. The touchdown was his 22nd of the season and cut the Miami lead to 28-14. Pittsburgh recovered the on-side kick, but any Panther hopes of a comeback ended with Rutherford being intercepted, giving Miami a 28-14 win.

7. Nov. 14, 2009: Pitt 27 Notre Dame 22

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    The Panthers came into the game with an 8-1 record and ranked no. 8 in the Associated Press Poll. Notre Dame was 6-3.  

    In front of a national TV audience and a crowd of 65,374, youth would be served as the night belonged to a pair of Pitt sophomores, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and running back Dion Lewis. Baldwin caught five passes for 142 yards, one a diving 36-yard touchdown catch. He also had a great leaping catch for 51 yards. Lewis carried the ball 21 times for 152 yards and broke the game open with a 50-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 27-9 lead in the fourth quarter.

    Notre Dame’s outstanding wide receiver Golden Tate nearly brought the Irish back. Tate finished with nine catches for 113 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yard touchdown pass from Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen that cut Pitt’s lead to 27-16 with 9:10 remaining. Tate then returned a punt 87 yards less than two minutes later. That score temporarily quieted the raucous crowd and the Panthers held on for a 27-22 victory.

6. Nov. 30, 2002: West Virginia 24 Pitt 17

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    In front of the largest crowd ever (66,731) to watch a Pitt game at Heinz Field, and the second largest ever for a Pitt home game, the Panthers couldn’t overcome four turnovers and lost to rival West Virginia 24-17. Pitt’s largest home crowd ever was 68,918 against Fordham at Pitt Stadium in 1938.  

    The Panthers scored first on a first quarter 32-yard scoring strike from Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford to freshman wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  With the score tied at 10 in the second quarter, Pitt turned the ball over on three straight possessions and the Mountaineers took advantage scoring 14 points off the Panthers miscues.   

    Pitt cut the lead to seven early in the 4th quarter with Rutherford again hooking up with Fitzgerald on a 25-yard touchdown pass. Late in the game Pitt had its chance to tie the game as Rutherford led the Panthers downfield. But the 13 play, 79-yard drive stalled at the Mountaineers 11-yard line with three straight incompletions. 

    West Virginia was led by quarterback Rasheed Marshall who ran for one touchdown and threw for another along with running back Avon Cobourne who rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Pitt running back Brandon Miree also broke the 100-yard barrier rushing for 121 yards on 25 carries and Fitzgerald finished with 11 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns.  

5. Sept. 3, 2005: Notre Dame 42 Pitt 21

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    Few games at Heinz Field were more anticipated and looked forward to than this one, and it resulted in the largest crowd ever to watch a Pitt game at Heinz Field.  A crowd of 66,451 turned out to witness the start of the Dave Wannstedt era at Pitt. The local kid from Baldwin, PA, came back to his alma mater to take Pitt to the next level after taking over for Walt Harris. This game also marked the start of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame.   

    Pitt came into the game ranked 23rd in the nation and got off to a 7-0 lead thanks to a Tyler Palko touchdown pass, but the rest of the first half belonged to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish scored four  touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding 35-13 halftime lead. By halftime, the Irish had 319 total yards of offense. In the third quarter the Irish had a 20-play, 80-yard drive that lasted more than seven minutes to cement the victory.

    Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn completed 18 of 27 passes on the night for 227 yards and two touchdowns as the Irish ended up with 502 yards of total offense. 

4. Nov. 8, 2003: Pitt 31 Virginia Tech 28

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    Led by sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and senior quarterback Rod Rutherford, No. 21 ranked Pitt upset No. 5 Virginia Tech 31-28 in front of a Heinz Field crowd of 66,207.  The last time Pitt had beaten a top five team at home was in 1987 when Pitt upset No. 4 Notre Dame 31-27.   

    Rutherford completed 24 of 31 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns, while Fitzgerald had eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Fitzgerald's touchdown was his 17th on the season, establishing a new school record and extending his NCAA record of consecutive games with a touchdown reception to 15.  Not to be outdone, Virginia Tech junior tailback Kevin Jones rushed for a school record 241 yards on 30 carries and scored four touchdowns. 

    With 4:16 remaining, Pittsburgh’s defense stopped Virginia Tech on fourth down on its own 30 yard line. With 4:10 to go they were down 28-24.  Rutherford and Fitzgerald connected on three plays for 49 yards. The Panthers faced third and goal from the two yard line with 54 seconds remaining and then Lousaka Polite bulldozed his way into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

3. October 10, 2007 Navy 48 Pitt 45 in Double Overtime

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    A weeknight crowd of 30,103 never would of imagined that they would witness the longest game ever played at Heinz Field. And not only was it the longest game but also one of the most memorable ones played there as well. 

    The two teams combined for 905 yards of total offense, with Navy gaining 497 yards, 331 of those on the ground. Pitt gained 418 yards, rushing for 227 and passing for 191. Navy came into the game with the number two rushing offense in the country averaging 348 yards per game.

    Freshman LeSean McCoy led all rushers with 165 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns.  Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada rushed for 122 yards and was 9 for 12 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Pitt quarterback Pat Bostick was 20-of-28 for 191 yards with one touchdown and an interception.

    The Panthers were in position to win when Navy kicked a field goal in the second overtime and the Panthers got the ball back with a chance to win.  Pitt gambled going for a touchdown on fourth down when a chip-shot field goal would have forced another overtime. It will be the win-it-or-lose-it on one play call that will long be debated among Pitt fans. 

    With Pitt facing fourth-and-goal at the Navy 2, Wannstedt went for the win and Bostick threw incomplete to Darrell Strong in the end zone. 

2. Nov. 16, 2006 West Virginia 45 Pitt 27

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    This game was Marvelous Marvin Hagler versus Thomas the Hit Man Hearns in cleats, with both teams throwing heavy body shots at one another from the very outset of the game.  Defense took a holiday this November night.  The Backyard Brawl was more like a track meet as fans turned their heads like at a tennis match to try keep up with the teams racing up and down the field in the first half.   

    Pitt’s defense had no answer for West Virginia’s duo of quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton.  White had 424 yards in total offense as he  was 11-for-16 passing for 204 and two touchdowns as well as rushing for 220 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.

    Slaton had 345 yards in total offense, rushing for 215 yards on 23 carries with six receptions for 130 yards.  Slaton became the first player in West Virginia history to have over 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game and scored four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving. 

    Pitt’s offensive star was quarterback Tyler Palko who was 28 out of 37 passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Midway through the second quarter, Mountaineer and Plum High School graduate Pat McAfee kicked one of the longest field goals in Heinz Field history, college or pro, converting from 51 yards away. 

    The play of the game and the ESPN College Football Play of the Year took place when Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown with just over two minutes to go before halftime to give Pitt a 24-17 lead.  Revis’ return was made possible by a tremendous block by Derek Kinder that took out two Mountaineers on the play.  

    West Virginia answered right back, taking just over a minute to do so on a 3-play, 74-yard drive with Slaton scoring on a 67-yard pass play from White to tie the game up at 24 apiece.

    With less than a minute remaining in the half, it was Pitt’s turn.  The Panthers went 61 yards in four plays setting up a Conor Lee 39-yard field goal with three seconds left to take a 27-24 halftime lead.  

    Pitt had held West Virginia to 67 yards rushing in the first half.  But on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, White went 64 yards for a touchdown and West Virginia was on top to stay.  White would score again on the Mountaineers very next possession as well. 

    Pitt was shutout and outscored in the second half 21-0 as the Mountaineers took control, rushing for 371 of their 438 yards after halftime and holding the Panthers to only 30 total yards in the second half. 

    The two teams had combined for nearly 1,000 yards in total offense with West Virginia gaining 641 yards in total offense (437 yards on the ground) and Pitt with 341 yards passing but -1 yards rushing.   

    It all added up to a 45-27 victory for West Virginia and their fourth victory in the last five meetings with Pitt. 

1. December 5, 2009 Cincinnati 45 Pitt 44

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    The most memorable game would have to be, without question, the game that also provided both the greatest temporary feeling of euphoria and the greatest low to Pitt football fans in decades. 

    In front of a national TV audience with the Big East championship and a BCS bowl birth on the line, the most memorable game in Pitt’s Heinz Field history took place on a cold, snowy, grey December afternoon.

    One would think the Panthers had the formula for victory. They rushed for nearly 200 yards on offense, won the time of possession battle nearly two to one and intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike three times. They led 31-10 before halftime, yet found a way to lose in the most excruciating and heartbreaking loss ever for Pitt at Heinz Field. 

    The difference maker in the game was Cincinnati wide receiver Marty Gilyard. With Pitt leading 31-10 with 1:10 left in the half and the crowd sensing a Big East Championship and a BCS bowl bid, Gilyard returned the kickoff 99 yards and created a huge shift in momentum for the Bearcats going into halftime. Gilyard finished with 381 all-purpose yards on the afternoon. 

    Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt showed total belief in the adage that in the big games you put the ball in your best player’s hands.  Pitt freshman running back Dion Lewis carried the ball a school-record 47 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns and also had six receptions on the day. 

    It was a tale of two halves for Pike as he was 8 for 23 for 84 yards with two interceptions in the first half, and in the second half was 14 for 21 for 218 yards with three touchdowns. The Bearcats scored touchdowns on their last three possessions of the game. 

    Apparently Pitt didn’t learn its lesson in kicking it to Gilyard, in the second half Gilyard had a 49-yard kickoff return that led to another Bearcat touchdown. 

    With the score tied at 38, on Pitt’s next possession Dion Lewis scored but the extra point attempt failed as holder Andrew Janocko mishandled the snap from center and kicker Dan Hutchins never got to kick the extra point—giving Pitt a six-point lead.  

    Gilyard again gave the Bearcats good field position as he returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bearcats 39-yard line. Pike took the Bearcats down the field in just over a minute to tie the game on a 29-yard touchdown pass. Unlike Pitt on its last possession, the Bearcats made the extra point giving them the game, the Big East Conference championship and ultimately a trip to the Sugar Bowl. The crowd of 63,387 had witnessed a classic.