It was a matchup 16 years in the making. Two teams whose rivalry began in 1893 and ended 2000 was renewed this season as the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Both teams will play at Happy Valley in 2017, but next week Pitt will travel to Oklahoma City to play
Lions squared off in front of a record Heinz Field crowd of 69,983 and an ESPN National Televised audience and came away victorious as they beat Penn State 42-39. S Ryan Lewis’ end zone interception with over a minute left sealed the victory for the Panthers.
In their 4-game series dubbed the ‘Keystone Classic, Pitt leads 1-0 and are now 2-0 in their 2016 season. It was the first time that Pitt has ever scored 42 points on Penn State and their 81 total points were the most ever in their historic rivalry.
After Penn State had an impressive drive that ended with a 3-and-out, Pitt took over at their own 1-yard line and drove it 99 yards for the first score of the game when FB George Aston ran it in from the 1. RB James Conner had the majority of the yards on 2 impressive runs, followed by WR Ollie Henderson who took a couple of pitches from QB Nate Peterman. As a result, Pitt got an early 7-0 lead.
When Penn State took over, it didn’t last long as DE Ejuan Price stripped QB Trace McSorely and got the ball back at their 12. Then Peterman found Henderson for a 7-yard TD pass giving Pitt a 14-0 lead. The drive covered 2 plays and 12 yards. When Penn State got the ball, they ended up with another 3-and-out and punted the ball back to Pitt who took over at their own 20.
Pitt couldn’t convert and ended up punting the ball back Penn State, who almost had a TD when PR John Reid returned it for 59 yards deep in Pitt territory. A pass interference call put the ball at the 3 and then the Nittany Lions got their first TD when RB Saquon Barkley ran it in from the 1-yard line closing Pitt’s lead to 14-7.
As the second quarter began, Pitt took over and scored again as Peterman found TE Scott Orndoff for the 2-yard TD giving Pitt a 21-7 lead. The drive covered 9 plays and 75 yards. Penn State took over and as a result of another impressive play by Price, McSorely fumbled again which was recovered by Pitt S Jordan Whitehead giving Pitt back the ball at the Penn State 30. Whitehead then took an offensive snap and ran it 28 yards to the Penn State 2. Pitt then scored again as Aston took it in from the 1-yard line extending their lead to 28-7. The drive covered 3 plays 30 yards.
Penn State failed to convert and punted the ball back to Pitt. When they took over at their own 33, but Peterman makes his first mistake as his pass was tipped and intercepted by Penn State’s Mark Golden giving them the ball at their own 35. But Penn State once again failed to convert and punted the ball back to Pitt who took over at their own 18. The Panthers also failed to convert as they punted the ball back to Penn State as they took over on their own 17-yard line.
Penn State would then drive 8 plays and 80 yards for the 2nd TD of the game when Barkley scored from the 1-yard line, closing Pitt’s lead to 28-14. Pitt would then kill the clock to end the first half as both teams went into the locker room.
In the 3rd quarter, Pitt field to convert and punted the ball back to Penn State who took over at their own 46 and scored their 3rd TD when McSorely found Barkley for a 40-yard TD pass closing Pitt’s lead to 28-21. The Panthers then found life on an 11 play, 75-yard drive that ended when Conner scored from the 1-yard line extending their lead to 35-21.
Pitt K Chris Blewitt missed a 56-yard FG attempt, and then Penn State scored again as Barkley scored again, closing Pitt’s lead to 35-28. It didn’t get any better for Pitt as Conner fumbled his handoff, which Penn State recovered deep in Pitt territory. But the Panthers were able to keep the Nittany Lions out of the end zone and settle for a 38-yard Tyler Davis which closed Pitt’s lead to 35-31.
Henderson got Pitt deep into Penn State territory with an amazing 84-yard kick return. Then Conner got Pitt into the end zone once again when he took a pitch from Peterman and ran it for 12 yards into the end zone, extending their lead to 42-31. Pitt’s defense fed off the offense success as they sacked McSorely and forced another punt.
Pitt took over at their own 7 and were forced to punt after going nowhere while Penn State scored again on a 2-yard run by Barkley and a 2-point conversion closing Pitt’s lead to 42-39 with 5 minutes’ left. Pitt did nothing and punted the ball back to Penn State who had the crowd on edge as McSorely converted a 4th and 16, but then his next pass sailed into the hands of Pitt S Ryan Lewis. Pitt’s offense then took a knee to preserve the 42-39 victory.
Conner was once again the star as he led Pitt with 117 yards on 22 carries and 2 TDs. Henderson added 58 yards and Peterman 52 as the Panthers rushed for an incredible 341 yards in the ground and they needed every one of them to beat the Nittany Lions. Although he only passed for 91 yards, Peterman threw for 3 TDs and 1 interception.
For the Nittany Lions (1-1), it was truly Barkley who kept them in the game as he rushed for 85 yards and scored 4 TDs on the ground and caught another which gave him 5 for the day. McSorely rebounded from a sluggish first half and passed for 332 yards, a TD and an INT.
“Unbelievable. I can’t tell you how proud I am of my team. It was truly a slugfest.”-Said Pitt HC Pat Narduzzi. “It was a rivalry game and they’re having a blast in the other room. We still have a lot of things to improve on, but fast start, great play and great coaching.”
Both teams will play at Happy Valley in 2017, but next week Pitt will travel to Oklahoma City to play the Cowboys while Penn State returns home to host Temple.
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