Pitt upsets No. 13 Virginia Tech, 35-17
After Pitt's astounding 35-17 victory over Virginia Tech, coach Paul Chryst didn't talk much about his two-man running game, or a defense that came of age, or how his determined quarterback walked from the bowels of Heinz Field on crutches.
Asked if his team “found itself” after amassing 537 yards Saturday against the 13th-ranked Hokies, Chryst refused to feed the hype.
“We'll find out,” he said. “That's the great thing about sports. We have to do it again.”
No party hats for a team that, after all, is 1-2.
Not even any feelings of redemption after two tough losses to open the season.
“I don't think it erases anything,” said Chryst, moments after listening to his Panthers sing the university fight song as a tribute to his first victory as a head coach.
All it did was show the team what might happen in the future.
“It reinforces the game and how you play it and how you prepare for it,” Chryst said. “I love the way they competed, love the way they stayed true and worked throughout the process.”
Pitt was better than Virginia Tech (2-1) most of the day, with the exception of two missed field goals by Kevin Harper and a 94-yard punt return by the Hokies' Kyshoen Jarrett. The latter play cut the lead to 21-10 early in the second half and made many in the crowd of 48,032 nervous.
But Pitt responded to almost every bit of adversity.
It started with the offensive linemen, labeled “players of the game” by quarterback Tino Sunseri, and radiated out to other facets of the team.
Running backs Rushel Shell and Ray Graham combined for 251 yards on 47 carries against a defense that returned 10 starters from last season. With 157 yards, Shell became the first Pitt freshman since Dion Lewis in 2009 to rush for 100.
Graham, whose surgically repaired right knee was sore most of the week, started and ran for 94 yards.
Sunseri completed 19 of 28 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns and was sacked just once, 10 days after Cincinnati leveled him six times.
Pitt never trailed, but victory was no sure bet when the Panthers took the ball at their 12-yard line with a 28-17 lead and 13:17 left in the game.
Immediately, Shell took over, more bulldozer than greyhound, gaining 42 yards on the first two plays of the series, using his strength to run over defenders.
Yet the drive came down to fourth-and-3 from the Virginia Tech 28, when Chryst allowing Sunseri and the passing game to decide the outcome.
A year ago against Iowa, Pitt lost a lead and the game in similar circumstances.
Not this time.
Dropping back on two painful shins and standing in against 282-pound defensive tackle Kris Harley's rush, Sunseri found wide receiver Mike Shanahan for a 13-yard gain.
“Fourth down was just another down,” he said nonchalantly.
Six plays later, the 7-minute, 44-second drive was complete, and the Hokies were defeated when Shanahan caught a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Finally, Sunseri could limp to the sideline.
“He's a tough guy,” Shanahan said. “He wasn't going to let us down. That really showed a lot to the team.”
Added Shell: “That's something you have to respect. That's something you want out of your quarterback.”
After the game, there were weary smiles, but no clear feelings of satisfaction from the Panthers.
“This is not the end of the story,” Chryst said. “On this one day, they did what they needed to do and they came out with the victory.”
In another words, a good day's work. Nothing more.
“It wasn't a perfect game,” he said. “We grew, and we have to continue to grow.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.