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Rutherford's dream comes true

| Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001

Rod Rutherford waited a long time for this. More than two years, to be specific.

He knew that, sooner or later, he would complete a pass for the Pitt football team, but he wondered when it would happen.

He finally got the answer this past Saturday with an 11-yard toss to wide receiver R.J. English on the first play of the second quarter in Pitt's season-opening, 31-0, victory over East Tennessee State.

Rutherford, a sophomore from Perry Traditional Academy, was 0 for 3 passing last season and took a redshirt the previous year. That left him with a big, hefty goose egg in the pass-completion department until Saturday.

'It felt good to get the first one in,' said Rutherford, a fleet-footed quarterback who completed three more passes Saturday en route to going 4 of 8 for 51 yards. 'I knew if I would have thrown all incompletions, the press would have been asking me all kinds of questions about it. That was in the back of my mind on the field. I don't know why, but it popped in there.

'So, I had to do something about it. It felt good to get that first completion on the Division I level. I had fun with it. Believe me.'

Rutherford is the backup to fifth-year senior David Priestley, but it appears that he'll be doing more than mop-up duty for the Panthers, at least if Saturday was any indication.

He made his first appearance in the game's third series and ran for a 3-yard touchdown after Pitt recovered a fumble at the ETSU 3. He went on to play four full series - out of 13 - and also took over for Priestley when the Panthers had a first-and-goal at the ETSU 1, which led to a touchdown run by freshman Raymond Kirkley.

'The great thing with Rod is that last year, he was a spot player; this year, he came in during our first game and played in series' for us,' said coach Walt Harris, whose team plays South Florida at Heinz Field on Saturday. 'He didn't execute as well as I would like, but he got some chances.'

After completing his first pass of the game to English, Rutherford went into a funk, missing on four consecutive throws. He got things going late in the game, however, when he completed his final three passes - of 7, 21 and 12 yards.

'I was nervous from the start,' said Rutherford, Pitt's top recruit in 1999. 'I was glad (Harris) got me in early to get the jitters out of the way. I still played kind of rocky, but I thought I did well.'

On the ground, Rutherford was contained by ETSU throughout the first three quarters, though some of that had to do with the fact that he was playing in goal-line situations. His longest run was for 3 yards until he had back-to-back carries of 12 and 18 yards in the fourth quarter, then added runs of 1, 7 and 7 yards to close out the game.

Rutherford finished with 12 rushes for 57 yards with a touchdown, after mustering just 6 yards on four carries in the first half.

'It wasn't the best game I could play,' Rutherford said, 'but it was a start.'

  • Notes - Harris said on a Big East teleconference call Monday that the Pitt program still measures itself against Penn State, even though the teams no longer play. 'Oh, yeah,' Harris said. 'I think we're making progress. I don't think we'll know how it affects us in recruiting until after the season, after we play our season and they play theirs. ... We beat them on a couple kids and they beat us on a couple kids. We know that it's still a long battle for us. They had 109,000 people at the game (Penn State's 33-7 loss to Miami on Saturday at State College). That always fires up football recruits, too.' ... Harris added that it is OK with him if some are saying his program is on its way to surpassing Penn State's. 'I don't mind people talking that way. It's a compliment. I guarantee you it wasn't that way five years ago.' ... On the subject of All-America wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who is questionable for the South Florida game with a sprained left ankle, Harris said: 'He wasn't moving around real well (Sunday). I'm sure he'll be doing everything he can to get healthy.'...No betting line has been set for this weekend's game between Alabama Birmingham - which plays at Pitt a week from Saturday - and Florida State due to a lawsuit that was named against several UAB football players five days ago. The players were accused in a complaint filed by the parents of a 15-year-old female prodigy student at UAB who allegedly had consensual sex, as a minor, with some football and basketball players at the school. There have been no convictions or suspensions of any players to date.

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