UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Precisely 108,661 spectators saw a 17-10 Penn State victory over Pitt that, had they not been gray haired and in street clothes, football legends Tony Dorsett, Jack Ham and Franco Harris would’ve been expected to play in.
It was a flashback to the glory days of the rivalry that saw the battles settled on the field and not the message boards or media rooms. Today was what this rivalry has been about and should always be about: hard-nosed, blue-collar football with toughness and physicality that only these teams can demonstrate against each other.
“It was a physical game,” Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said.
Clifford spent most of his afternoon under duress from the front of the Panthers that dialed the pressure up when they needed it most against their in-state rival.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “It was a chippy game. The crowd was yelling stuff, we were yelling back. We’re going at it with the players on the field. I think it’s a great game, an entertaining game today.”
There’s that word rivalry that’s popped up between these two teams, you know the word Penn State coach James Franklin refuses to use against Pitt and really any other team for that matter. Though after the game, even Franklin’s players had mentioned this game as a rivalry despite what their coach may say.
“I mean it’s a rivalry game, Pitt-Penn State, 100th meeting and our last game of the series,” Nittany Lions tight end Pat Freiermuth said. “There’s definitely going to be trash-talking. I thought it was fun.”
While in different areas of the state, the two programs and their players are no strangers to each other with Penn State and Pitt often recruiting many of the same areas and players.
“It’s different…” Clifford said. “Pitt, in high school I knew a bunch of those guys. That’s why it gets a little more talk or trash talk or whatever because you know them. It’s kind of fun.”
The physicality and hard-fought battle on the field is what Penn State running back and Pennsylvania native Journey Brown relishes which makes sense as he ran for 105 yards.
“I love this feeling, feeling beat up I guess you could say.” Brown said. “The level of physicality the two teams played with today is what I love. I love these type of games, good games like this. I feel like we put on a show.”
That show featured a battle of two top-notch defenses which saw Penn State allow only 24 yards on the ground and find the end zone only once on the day despite allowing Pickett to slice up their secondary to the tune of 372 yards.
“Whenever you can keep a team to 24 yards rushing, you have a chance to be successful,” Franklin said.
Pickett played one of, if not the best game of his career despite not finding the end zone and that was not lost on his head coach.
“He played his tail off,” Pat Narduzzi said. “He made some throws you guys have not seen him make before. Kenny had a heck of a ballgame.”
Much will be made of Pickett’s day but the Pitt defense held an offense averaging 62 points a game to only 17. Granted the first two games for the Nittany Lions were against Idaho and Buffalo respectively, the defense for the Panthers held up their end of the ballgame save for some key drives.
“Defensively we held strong all day, played good football, give up 17 points,” Narduzzi said.
It was on the second drive of the second half where the Nittany Linos methodically made their way downfield in 13 plays resulting in running back Noah Cain finding the end zone for a touchdown.
Neither team would get close to scoring until the fourth quarter when the Panthers found themselves faced with first and goal from the 1-yard line and down 17-10.
Pickett would be rushed on first down winding up with an incompletion before rushing for no gain on second. Another rushed pass on third down resulted in an incompletion and a decision for Narduzzi. The decision, which will be questioned for quite some time, was to kick the field goal.
“We could’ve gone for it there and not gotten it,” Narduzzi said. “I thought if we kick field goal there it’s going to be a two-possession game, you need two scores. A field goal is a good play then you come back and score again.”
In reality, Pitt didn’t need two scores in the conventional use of that terminology. They could have gotten the touchdown and PAT to tie or gone for a two-point conversion to take the lead.
The decision backfired that much more as Pitt kicker Alex Kessman missed the 19-yard attempt all but thwarting the Panthers chances at victory.
“I don’t question that call at all, really,” Narduzzi said.
Now, after 100 meetings, the Penn State-Pitt rivalry will be put on hold for who knows how long, but one thing is for sure: This game reinforced why it remains very real.
• Elias Reynolds, Pitt – (undisclosed) left in the first half and was in street clothes for the second half.
It was the 100th game between these two teams, Penn State now holds a 53-43-4 record all-time against Pitt. Penn State did not record a sack until the third quarter and wound up notching three. The game featured a 40 minute weather delay when lightning was spotted in the area prior to kickoff. Pitt out-gained Penn State 396-389 while only rushing for 24 yards. Penn State kicker Jordan Stout notched a team-record 57-yard field goal to tie the game entering the half.
If or when Pitt and Penn State will take the field against one another again isn’t certain. However, they will both head off into the remainder of their schedules. Penn State has next weekend off before heading to Maryland Friday, September 27 while Pitt hosts UCF next week at Heinz Field.