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Pitt vs ND: 10 years later

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, Nov. 13, 2009

Ten years ago today, Pitt closed Pitt Stadium with a stunning 37-27 victory over Notre Dame.

With nine seconds remaining, Pitt fans rushed the field and tore down the goal posts. Among those ripping apart the artificial turf for keepsakes was a fifth-grader named Dorin Dickerson, a decade before he would star for the No. 8 Panthers (8-1), who play host to Notre Dame (6-3) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.

"People were going crazy," Dickerson said. "It should be pretty exciting this week."

Dickerson hopes that the spirit captured that night at Pitt Stadium is present with a sellout crowd at Heinz Field, the home the Panthers now share with the Steelers. A victory over the Fighting Irish would seal the post-game comments by former Pitt coach Walt Harris, who lamented Pitt Stadium's demise.

"I just wish we didn't have to tear our stadium down to get them to come," Harris said. "I don't know what we're going to do for an encore."

As long as he lives, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson says, he will never be able to describe the feeling of watching Hall of Famer Marshall Goldberg symbolically capturing the spirit of Pitt Stadium in a small wooden chest after the game.

Except for this: "It was the perfect end to a perfect night."

Harris believes the pressure was on Pitt to perform, and the underdog Panthers responded.

"It was such a great feeling, such a great relief," said Harris, Pitt's coach from 1997-2004. "We needed to win. To put the final touches on a storied stadium and continue to build our program back to where it needed to be - and where it should be - there was no way we could do anything but win."

That the grand finale came against the most storied school in college football was pure coincidence, Pederson said, as it was scheduled years earlier and prior to the decision to demolish Pitt Stadium.

"When you look back and wonder how things happen, certainly that wasn't choreographed," Pederson said. "It's just how things fell."

Things fell into place perfectly for Pitt the night of Nov. 13, 1999, marked by the return of 400-plus lettermen to honor the end of a 74-year era and, ultimately, the resurrection of Pitt's football program. None of that was lost on then-Notre Dame coach Bob Davie.

"I came in there with my eyes wide open. I knew exactly what that could be," said Davie, a Moon native and 1977 Pitt graduate assistant. "The difficult part is conveying that to your players, who don't share that nostalgia. I knew totally what that was going to be."

The Panthers were playing with their backup quarterback, John Turman, who completed 10 of 27 passes for 231 yards, two interceptions and a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Bryant. Nick Lotz kicked three field goals, including a 33-yarder for a 20-17 lead in a game that twice was tied.

"That was history in the making," Pitt radio play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove said, "and, gosh, it was dramatic."

Adding to the drama was the Western Pennsylvania flavor that played a major role. Linebacker Scott McCurley, a Mohawk graduate, blocked a Notre Dame field goal before halftime to preserve a 10-10 tie and later intercepted a pass tipped by safety Ramon Walker with Pitt clinging to a 30-27 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

That set up the heroics of running back Kevan Barlow, a Peabody graduate who carried nine times in 10 plays and scored on a 2-yard run for a 37-27 edge with one minute, 41 seconds remaining.

Notre Dame responded with a 42-yard pass from Jarious Jackson to tight end Bobby Brown to the Pitt 13, but a fourth-down throw was broken up by Robb Butler, a Perry Traditional Academy graduate.

"That was my first real experience of how crazy it can get on campus for a Pitt game," said Rod Rutherford, a Pitt freshman at the time and now a graduate assistant for the Panthers. "Nothing was able to match the energy for it being a Notre Dame game and the last game at home at Pitt Stadium. We captured the spirit. Everything that went into that game was unbelievably memorable, something that I'll never forget.

"That was their signature on the closing of the stadium."

The best of Pitt-Notre Dame

The most memorable games in a series that began in 1909:

1. Nov. 15, 1975: Tony Dorsett rushed for a school-record 303 yards, as the Panthers beat the Irish, 34-20, for the first time since 1963.

2. Oct. 11, 1952: Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt's pre-game pep talk sparked Pitt to a 22-19 victory in South Bend, Frank Leahy's only loss to Pitt.

3. Oct. 25, 1930: Notre Dame won, 35-19, in the only meeting between Jock Sutherland and Knute Rockne, who died in a plane crash the next spring.

4. Nov. 13, 2004: Tyler Palko became the first player to throw five TD passes at Notre Dame Stadium, leading Panthers to a 41-38 victory.

5. Nov. 8, 1958: QB Bill Kaliden's 5-yard run with 11 seconds remaining lifted the Panthers to a 29-26 victory at Pitt Stadium.

6. Nov. 1, 2008: Conor Lee's fifth field goal clinched a 36-33 Pitt quadruple-overtime victory in the longest game in the history of either program.

7. Oct. 10, 1987: Pitt had a 27-0 halftime lead before QB Tony Rice, replacing the injured Terry Andrysiak, rallied the Irish, who fell, 30-22.

8. Oct. 24, 1936: Pitt recovered from a 7-0 loss to Duquesne a week earlier to beat the Fighting Irish, 26-0, on its way to the Rose Bowl.

9. Sept. 10, 1977: The 1976 undefeated national champions lost QB Matt Cavanaugh to a broken wrist in opener and blew 9-0 lead in 19-9 defeat.

10. Oct. 11, 1986 : Freshman Jeff Van Horne's 29-yard FG with 1:25 left, followed by John Carney's 44-yard miss, lifted visiting Pitt to a 10-9 win.

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