By: Jack Merlino
September 10th, 2016
In front of a stadium-record 69,983 fans at Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Panthers edged their in-state and former conference rival Penn State Nittany Lions, 42-39. The game, which began at 12:00 noon, saw Pitt star James Connor back in his old form as well as a career-performance by PSU running back Saquon Barkley, who had 130 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns.
After taking a downed punt at the 1-yard line, Pitt rode the legs of running back James Connor to a 7-0 score, capped by a TD run by fullback (and secret weapon?) George Aston. It would be a lead that Pitt never relinquished, despite a late-game bid by Penn State to tie the score or take the lead.
Less than halfway through the 1st Quarter, stud Panther D-Lineman Ejuan Price strip-sacked Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley deep in Penn State territory. Mike Caprara had the Pitt recovery, his first of two on the day. Two plays later, Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman hit wide out Quadree Henderson for a 7-yard touchdown pass, giving Pitt a quick 14-0 lead.
After the two teams traded punts, the Nittany Lions found themselves at Pitt’s 15-yard line following an excellent 59-yard punt return by John Reid. Two plays later, Saquon Barkley rushed into the end zone for his first touchdown. 14-7, Panthers.
Pitt immediately answered with a score of their own. Pitt QB Nate Peterman, who finished 11/15 passing for 91 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT, found tight-end Scott Orndoff in the back of the end zone to make the score 21-7, Pittsburgh.
After the two teams exchanged one more TD apiece, including the second scores for both George Aston and Saquon Barkley, the halftime score was 28-14.
Following a Pitt 3-and-out to begin the 2nd half, the Nittany Lions took control of the game. Trace McSorley, who had an excellent 1st start vs. an FBS team and ended with 332 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, linked up with his star RB Barkley for a 40-yard touchdown.
Pitt responded with their best/most complete drive of the rest of the game. The 3-RB combo of James Connor, Qadree Ollison, and Darrin Hall marched the offense down the field before Connor found the end zone for his 3rd TD of the season. Connor finished with 146 total yards and for the 2nd-straight game had both a rushing and receiving touchdown.
On the next Penn State drive, the Nittany Lions moved the ball to the edge of field goal range before defensive back Dennis Briggs forced a fumble on Saquon Barkley, Barkley’s only faux pas of the game.
After the Panthers got to the PSU 32-yard line, Chris Blewitt was brought in to attempt a 50-yard field goal. He missed, making him 0-3 kicking field goals on the season.
Penn State took advantage. Saquon Barkley rushed for his 4th overall TD of the day. 35-28, Pittsburgh. On the very first play of the next Pitt drive, James Connor coughed up the ball, which Penn State recovered.
With their backs against the wall, Pitt needed a huge stop from the defense. They got that when DL Quintin Wirginis came through with a clutch 10-yard sack on 3rd down. Penn State was forced to settle for a field goal. 35-31, Pitt.
With all of the momentum on the Penn State side of the field, Pittsburgh was hurting for someone to jump-start the offense. They found that when Quadree Henderson returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards. He was 10 yards short of a kickoff-return-for-a-touchdown in his 3rd-straight game. On 3rd-and-goal from the 12-yard line, Peterman connected with James Connor for a touchdown pass. 42-31 Pitt.
With 6:30 left in the game, Penn State was in do-or-die mode. With the game nearly on the line, they orchestrated a 60-yard touchdown drive, capped by Saquon Barkley’s 5th and final TD of the day. A vital 2-pt conversion was converted, and a field goal made the difference in the game.
After a Pitt 3-and-out, Penn State got the ball with 3:56 left in the game with a chance to tie it or take their first lead of the day. They drove down the field, including a 34-yard pass completion on 4th-and-16. From the Pitt 31-yard line, Trace McSorley took his final shot towards the end zone, but it was intercepted by Pitt DB Ryan Lewis, which sealed the Pittsburgh win.
FINAL: Pitt 42, Penn State 39