College Football

Pitt wins Keystone Classic thriller

Pittsburgh, PA — Pitt Panthers senior linebacker Mike Caprara perhaps had the biggest idea of what his team’s in-state rivalry with the Penn State Nittany Lions meant.

Two of Caprara’s uncles attended Penn State and as a result, family loyalties were divided. It is why this game was so close to his heart.

“It was amazing from the gate,” he said. “Just the whole atmosphere, coming out, it was everything I thought it would be. Seeing all the Penn State fans and all the Pitt fans, we knew what we were in for and we knew we had our work cut out for us.”

Pitt ended up earning a 42-39 victory in the Keystone Classic in front of 69,983 fans in a game which came down to the final minute.

“I can’t tell them how proud I am of them,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “If you want to talk about the ability to stick together, the ups and downs of a football game, that was a back and forth slugfest.”

Following the team’s week one victory against Villanova, Narduzzi stated that the biggest improvement for a team came from week one to week two. This may especially ring true for offensive coordinator Matt Canada who was in his second regular season game on the job.

“Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Matt Canada had 350 plays on his wristband today,” said Narduzzi. “I give credit to Coach Canada for calling great plays. It was a fast start with great coaching and execution.”

What also served as motivation was the opposing locker room. Penn State downplayed the game as a rivalry and some tweets were relayed by Narduzzi and staff to the players.

Quarterback Nathan Peterman did not hide the fact that his team had been waiting for this game for a year now.

“It was extremely emotional and heated from the start,” he said. “I’m not sure if there was too much trash talk on the field on our part, but we were extremely motivated from the start. Everything they said on Twitter and the trash talk throughout, it really drove us and hopefully they think this is a rivalry now.”

The game in Pitt history that may be known best for its score was its 2007 13-9 victory against a then second ranked West Virginia team. For a while the 28-7 lead the Panthers had over Penn State was set to rival that.

“We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I thought whoever had the lead, no matter what the situation was, that this was one of those games that was going to come down to the wire. I don’t think anybody in the locker room felt that it was out of hand.”

Pitt received the ball first to open the second half and failed to score, while Penn State did score a touchdown which led to the back and forth nature of the second half, while cutting the Panther lead to 28-21.

Both teams found different ways to excel offensively on the football field. Pitt had 341 total rushing yards and Penn State had 332 yards passing.

A big reason for Penn State’s success was tailback Saquon Barkley. Barkley did not get 100 yards but did score five touchdowns, four on the ground and one on a pass from Trace McSorley. Barkley is the first to score 30 points in a game since Ki-Jana Carter in 1994.

“He’s a great running back though and he showed it today,” Pitt tailback James Conner said. “I watch him on YouTube.”

Penn State appeared to have the fourth quarter momentum but it was Quadree Henderson who had a big second half kickoff for the second consecutive week, this one going for 84 yards. Pitt needed two plays to score from there.

This was after Penn State recovered a fumble at the Pitt 11 and was forced to settle for a field goal.

“Their kickoff return when we had swung momentum back in our direction was a huge play,” said Franklin. “We didn’t have the ball kicked in the area of the field that it was supposed to be kicked. On top of that, we didn’t do a great job getting off the blocks and tackling.”

Penn State trailed 42-39 with 3:56 to play and three plays into the drive McSorley had DaeSean Hamilton open for a deep pass with a likely go-ahead touchdown assured. Hamilton was unable to make the catch.

Though Penn State would convert a 4th-and-16 the drive halted at Pitt’s 31-yard-line when McSorley threw an interception caught in the end zone by Ryan Lewis with 1:15 remaining in regulation.

“I saw it and just knew I had to make a play,” he said. “The only thing I had to keep in mind was to stay in bounds. As soon as I caught that ball, the crowd started erupting, I didn’t even know where I was, but my teammates were on me and I knew right there and then, it was over.”

While Lewis and the Panthers celebrated the victory, Hamilton was more hurt than normal about this defeat.

“The amount of work that I put in, the amount of work the team put in, for us to get that close and not pull out a win is very upsetting; especially when it comes down to crunch time and with us battling back so far,” Hamilton said. “Seeing the game slip away from you right there is the hardest part.”

Pitt, now 2-0 will travel to take on 22nd ranked Oklahoma State which lost at home against Central Michigan Saturday. Penn State fell to 0-1 and will face Temple in a home game next weekend.

Heading into overtime

Narduzzi announced that two of his defensive starters Dewayne Hendrix and Elijah Zeise will be out for the season. Both were injured in the team’s season-opening game against Villanova.

“I had to text them this morning that they are going to be out for the year,” Narduzzi said. “It’s unfortunate because they are two great young men and great players and we are going to miss them on the playing field.”

He said it 

“This is our state now” – Pitt tailback James Conner

“That’s just another excuse” – Pat Narduzzi on James Franklin saying the defensive clapping distracted his team.

“We have more heart than in my three years, more than we’ve ever had. We’re not going to give up, we’re not going to quit. We’re going to do whatever it takes to come back and win. We owe it to each other and we owe it to our fans, but more importantly, we put far too much time into it to go down 28-7 and say, ‘Alright. See you next week.’ No. That’s not happening anymore. That’s not Penn State, that’s not who we are. For us to fight back, turn that into a game and have the ball moving down the field on that last drive and converting a fourth down, that’s who Penn State is.” – Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki

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