Pittsburgh 28, Virginia Tech 21
November 2, 2002
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
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Blacksburg, VA - Pittsburgh scored the last 21 points of the game, roaring back from a 21-7 deficit to dash third-ranked Virginia Tech's national title dreams, 28-21.
The Panthers were led by freshman receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who caught five passes for 105 yards, including three touchdown receptions from Rod Rutherford. But while Pittsburgh did some damage with their passing game, as they always do against Virginia Tech, they also ran for 275 yards, including a game-winning 53-yard romp by Brandon Miree with 4:11 left. With 208 passing yards, the Panthers rolled to 483 total yards.
Pittsburgh limited the Hokies to 275 total yards (130 rushing, 145 passing), stuffing Tech's running game at the line and sacking Hokie quarterback Bryan Randall seven times. Of the Hokies' 130 rushing yards on 45 attempts, 59 of them came on one play, a long TD run by Lee Suggs (25 carries, 128 yards, 2 TD's).
Tech's Kevin Jones was knocked out of this game early with a strained hamstring. Jones had just two carries for four yards and a TD before being helped off the field.
The Hokies staked themselves to a 14-0 first-quarter lead through special teams play. First Tech blocked a Pittsburgh punt, recovering it at the Panther 3-yard line, and Kevin Jones scored on the next play. On Pittsburgh's next punt attempt, the snap was high, and Pittsburgh punter Andy Lee pulled the ball down and ran with it. He was forced out at the 21-yard line, and from there, the Hokies took it into the end zone on a Suggs 1-yard run.
The Panthers responded to the 14-0 deficit with a 5-play, 77-yard drive, scoring on a 31-yard pass from Rutherford to Fitzgerald. At the end of the first quarter, the Hokies had been outgained 175-21 but led 14-7.
The Hokies clamped down on the Panthers in the second quarter, and neither team was able to put points on the board. On the Hokies' first possession of the third quarter, the struggling Tech offense finally broke loose, scoring on a 59-yard run by Suggs that put Tech up 21-7 just over a minute into the second half. Suggs took a pitch on the left side, burst through the corner, and raced down the sideline untouched. The run evened up the yardage battle at that point, with the Hokies pulling ahead 183-182.
But from then on, it was all Pittsburgh. Tech stopped the Panthers on their next possession when Rutherford threw incomplete to Fitzgerald on third and nine from the Pittsburgh 26-yard line. But Tech cornerback Ronyell Whitaker was whistled for a late hit after the incomplete pass hit the ground, giving Pittsburgh new life and a first down on their 41.
Whitaker's mistake proved to be pivotal. The Panthers wasted no time, scoring in two plays, with Fitzgerald catching a 14-yard TD pass over Whitaker to make it 21-14.
After a Tech three-and-out, the Panthers struck quickly again, going 72 yards in three plays. Fitzgerald caught another TD pass, this one a 10-yarder. The TD catch was set up by a 52-yard run up the middle by Pitt's Tim Murphy. Just like that, it was 21-all, with over seven minutes to go in the third quarter.
Tech's next four possessions went like this: fumble, missed 42-yard field goal, three-and-out, three-and-out.
During that time period, the Hokie defense managed to keep the surging Pitt offense at bay. DeAngelo Hall intercepted Rutherford in the Tech end zone, and Willie Pile picked him off at the Tech 35-yard line.
Pittsburgh finally broke through with 4:11 to go, with tailback Brandon Miree taking a handoff up the middle, breaking tackles by linebacker James Anderson and Pile, and motoring 53 yards for the touchdown that put Pittsburgh up for good, 28-21.
The Hokies went three-and-out again, and after stopping Pitt, had one last chance. A 33-yard pass from Randall to Ernest Wilford, plus a late-hit penalty on Pittsburgh, put the ball at the Pittsburgh 46-yard line. The Hokies threw an incomplete "Hail Mary" pass that hit the ground with two seconds to go, but the timekeeper inexplicably let the last two seconds tick off the clock to end the game.
With the loss, the Hokies drop to 8-1 overall, 3-1 Big East. Pittsburgh goes to 7-2 overall, and 4-0 in the Big East for the first time ever. The Hokies must regroup and face Syracuse on the road next Saturday, while Pittsburgh will play Temple at home. The Panthers travel to Miami for a Thursday night game on November 21st that will likely decide the Big East championship.
RUSHING: VT-Suggs 25-128, Jones 2-4, Easlick 2-2, Randall 16-(-4). Pittsburgh-Miree 23-161, Murphy, 2-58, Rutherford 15-56, Polite, 2-0, Team 2-0.
PASSING: VT-Randall 12-22-1-145. Pittsburgh-Rutherford 11-26-2-208.
RECEIVING: VT-Wilford 6-80, Witten 3-29, Humes 1-15, Parham 1-13, Suggs 1-8. Pittsburgh-Fitzgerald 5-105, Wilson 4-85, Slade 1-11, Miree 1-7.