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Pitt football team sorts through pile of defeats

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 9:22 p.m.
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Pitt's Ray Graham breaks free against Notre Dame during their game Nov. 3, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. (Getty Images)

For the past four seasons, Ray Graham has sat in somber, post-game locker rooms, trying to figure out what went wrong when everything seemed so right.

• As a Pitt freshman running back and kick returner in 2009, he was there when the Panthers, with a Big East championship and BCS bowl berth on the line, opened a 21-point, first-half lead on Cincinnati.

Final score: Cincinnati 45, Pitt 44.

• The next season, the Panthers took a 3-0 conference record into Connecticut, with bowl hopes swirling around them. Graham's touchdown run gave Pitt a 21-13 lead in the third quarter, but UConn's Nick Williams took the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards. Almost on cue, the Panthers collapsed.

Final score: Connecticut 30, Pitt 28

• Last year, Graham watched from the sideline, resting a knee injury, when West Virginia rallied from a 20-7 third-quarter deficit and vaulted into the Orange Bowl on the back of another disappointed Pitt team.

Final score: West Virginia 21, Pitt 20.

• Graham took his surgically repaired knee to South Bend, Ind., on Saturday to play fourth-ranked Notre Dame. He ran for 172 yards and a touchdown, leading his teammates to a 20-6 lead entering the fourth quarter. Of course, Pitt couldn't stand prosperity.

Final score: Notre Dame 29, Pitt 26, triple overtime.

Two days later, Graham found himself tired of wishing for do-overs.

“We always say, ‘If we could have got it back ...' I just hate saying that,” he said. “I just wish we would win games and just say, ‘Let's move forward from that.' ”

With three games left in a season that will determine this team's identity and a possible minor bowl berth, Pitt (4-5) will travel back to Connecticut on Friday to try to put things right.

“As a player, we just have to look at the film and move forward,” Graham said. “You can't sit and pout because you have other games to play.”

Coach Paul Chryst recognized the hurt on his players' faces after the Notre Dame game, and he hopes that stirs them to a good effort against UConn.

“I thought it really hurt them, not that you say that's good, but it was an appropriate response,” he said. “They can, rightfully, be proud of their effort and you should give effort like that every time. I think they're all right.”

Senior linebacker Joe Trebitz, who started the first game of his career Saturday in his fifth season at Pitt, came home with cuts on his face. “It was a physical game,” he said.

But he also holds a sense of wanting more and a memory of Williams' kickoff return that he carries with him to this day.

“I still have a little stink from that,” he said.

Of more immediate consequence is how Pitt confronted Notre Dame.

“They are a great team, but we never felt, ‘Oh, man, they are so much better than us,' ” Trebitz said. “We definitely gave them their respect, but we had confidence in ourselves and felt we belonged there.”

“Turn the page,” Chryst said. “We already have. We have to.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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