Lousaka Polite finished off a score-or-else 70-yard Pittsburgh drive -- highlighted by Fitzgerald's three catches -- with a 2-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds remaining, rallying the Panthers (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) past No. 5 Virginia Tech 31-28 Saturday night.
Playing its first ranked opponent this season, Pitt beat the Hokies a year after upsetting them 28-21 in Blacksburg when they
were ranked third and unbeaten.
"I'm thankful we have a lot of great football players who
wouldn't quit when things got bleak," a visibly relieved Pitt
coach Walt Harris said.
Pitt, which also beat the Hokies two years ago in Pittsburgh,
led 24-14 late in the third quarter, only to fall behind 28-24 as
Jones scored on runs of 80 and 13 yards barely two minutes apart.
Jones scored all four Tech touchdowns and ran for a school-record
241 yards, the second time in less a month an opposing runner named
Jones has shredded Pitt's defense for more than 200 yards. Notre Dame's Julius Jones had 262 yards in the Irish's 20-14 upset of
Pitt on Oct. 11.
With the Hokies in position to close it out, Marcus Vick threw
incomplete on fourth-and-4 from the Panthers 30 with 4:10
Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford, who was 24-for-31 for 303 yards
and two touchdowns and also ran for a score, then directed the
winning drive that kept the Panthers (7-2, 4-0) as the only
unbeaten team in Big East play. Rutherford's 12-yard scramble to
the 18 might have been the biggest play on the drive.
"Virginia Tech did a great job of taking things away from us,
but we made a lot of big plays when it counted," Rutherford said.
"They had big time players who made big time plays on that
final drive," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.
Fitzgerald, quiet most of the second half, made three catches
for 49 yards on the drive. Fitzgerald finished with eight catches
for 108 yards and a 5-yard touchdown that extended his NCAA record
to 15 consecutive games with a scoring reception.
"It's getting tougher and tougher to get him the ball," Harris
said. "They doubled and tripled him, but he still got 108 yards.
And we used him to help some other guys."
Kris Wilson, often getting free behind a Tech secondary
preoccupied with Fitzgerald, made six catches for a team-high 111
Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2) failed to follow up on last week's 31-7
rout of previously unbeaten Miami and dropped out of contention for
the national championship. Tech is 1-2 on the road with consecutive
losses at West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
"This really hurts," Hokies cornerback Eric Green said.
"Nothing explains how we feel. We did a great job against him
(Fitzgerald), but we beat ourselves."
Jones, never slowed by a Pitt defense that came into the game
allowing 157.6 yards rushing per game, broke Kenny Lewis' 1978
school record of 223 yards against VMI. He also scored on
first-half runs of 1 and 11 yards.
"That was the game plan, we were going to keep giving him the
ball," Vick said.
On the first play after Wilson caught an 11-yard touchdown pass
from Rutherford to put Pitt up 24-14, Jones ran down Tech's
sideline on the 80-yard score that seized the momentum away from
Pitt then went three-and-out on its next possession, and Vick
immediately hit Ernest Wilford -- who said before the game he was
just as good as Fitzgerald -- on a 46-yard completion with Josh Lay
in coverage. Jones scored from the 13 a play later.
Before that, Virginia Tech turned the ball over three times in
falling behind 17-14 at halftime, but Pitt turned only one of the
mistakes into scores. Cedric Humes' fumble late in the second
quarter and Jawan Walker's 27-yard run on a fourth-and-8 play from
the Hokies' 31 led to Rutherford's 2-yard scoring run.
Fitzgerald figured in all of Pitt's scoring, and not always with
the ball. His 17th touchdown catch in nine games broke Julius Dawkins' school record of 16 touchdown catches in 1981, Dan Marino's junior year. Fitzgerald also threw a key block on the
Jones' 11-yard touchdown run was set up by Mike Imoh's 50-yard
kickoff return, while the 1-yard run came on a quickly executed
75-yard drive in which Jones carried five times for 40 yards.
Pitt, trying for its first Big East championship, plays at rival
West Virginia and Temple before closing out the regular season Nov.
29 against Miami.