Gorman: Vinopal uses short-term memory for an unforgettable game
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Ray Vinopal has learned to turn a deaf ear to the criticism directed toward him, friendly fire from Pitt football fans who viewed the junior free safety as the weak link to a struggling secondary.
“As soon as it's over, it's gone,” Vinopal said. “A big part of it is my teammates are all very confident in me. No one is pointing fingers. Everyone is saying, ‘It's over. We need you.' Knowing you have the support of the guys is really big and really helps with that short-term memory. You ask any athlete, you forget it and move on.”
Vinopal turned in a performance that went from forgetful to unforgettable Saturday night in a 28-21 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame before a standing-room-only crowd at Heinz Field and a national television audience. He tied for the team-high with seven tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted two Tommy Rees passes.
“It was awesome, looking up and seeing all of those people in prime time,” Vinopal said. “You only go that way once. Those kind of opportunities, you hold them close.”
Vinopal will hold them with a vise grip, the way he held the football on those interceptions that proved to be the game's most pivotal plays. What made them so special for Vinopal was that his heroics came shortly after he was scorched.
This was just his luck: For every great play he made, his next would make him the goat. In the second quarter, Vinopal stripped Notre Dame's T.J. Jones, forcing a fumble recovered by Lafayette Pitts at the Panthers' 6.
Then Vinopal allowed a 38-yard pass to Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack just feet from the goal line, a play on which Vinopal also was called for pass interference. Three plays later, the Fighting Irish scored to take a 14-7 lead with 6:34 left in the first half.
“You learn from it and make sure it doesn't happen again,” Vinopal said. “After that, it was over. It's done. That play is not going to help us win the game anymore, so you let go of it.”
So Vinopal relied on his short-term memory in the second half.
The first pick came in the Panthers' end zone, preventing a touchdown that would have given the Irish an early fourth-quarter lead. Vinopal credited middle linebacker Shane Gordon for taking away the middle throw. That forced Rees to put some air under the ball in his pass intended for Chris Brown, and Vinopal stepped in to steal it.
“There's no one out there that deserves that more than Ray,” Pitt quarterback Tom Savage said. “You're not going to meet a kid that's going to work as hard as him. He put us in this game and gave us an opportunity to win. Our whole defense did, but some of the plays he made were huge.”
None was bigger than Vinopal's second interception, with the game tied at 21-21 early in the fourth quarter. Whether Rees overthrew Koyack or underthrew DaVaris Daniels, only Notre Dame knows. Either way, Vinopal picked it off at the Irish 45 and weaved his way along the home sideline to score what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown.
Alas, Vinopal stepped out of bounds at the 5. James Conner scored the winning touchdown three plays later. It was rewarding not only for Vinopal but also for the teammates who were with him amid the lowest moments and enjoyed watching him turn the jeers into cheers.
“He just keeps his head up. He keeps everything level-headed,” senior strong safety Jason Hendricks said. “He hears it but doesn't pay any attention to it. It doesn't affect his game. He works hard every day and gets better every week.”
Not to mention more tone deaf.
Vinopal said he has deleted most of his social media accounts, tuning out the taunts after responding to them earlier this season. He likes it better this way, not knowing what anyone is saying other than the coaches who are trying to help him correct mistakes.
“Every athlete's been there: Some weeks they love you. Some weeks they hate you,” Vinopal said. “It's understandable. That's how you are as a fan: You like the team so much you want things to go your way. But I can't concern myself with that side of it.”
So he turned on the short-term memory and silenced the critics in his own way, by playing the best game of his career. That it came against Notre Dame before a standing-room-only crowd and national television audience only made it more memorable.
“I'd be lying if I said it didn't, especially an 8 o'clock ABC game,” Vinopal said. “It was nice to go out there and show what I can do and help the team get the win.”
That's something Ray Vinopal will never forget.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Pederson had to go at Pitt
- Penguins’ Fleury tests negative for mumps; Crosby skates with team
- Steelers, young and old, thirst for opportunity to reach the postseason
- Judge dismisses littering charge against City Council president Kraus
- Pederson’s 2nd tenure as the athletic director at Pitt comes to abrupt end
- Butler’s chief clerk files discrimination, retaliation complaint
- Pittsburgh Public Schools adopts no-tax-increase budget for 2015
- QB Smith is chief concern for Steelers’ defense
- Armstrong man dies in single-vehicle crash
- Chryst returns home, named football coach at Wisconsin
- Demolition project at Oliver’s Pourhouse in Greensburg moves ahead