Temple 22

(3-7, 1-3 away)

(22) Pittsburgh 29

(8-2, 5-1 home)

12:00 PM ET, November 9, 2002

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA

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TEM 10 6 6 022
#22PITT 7 7 8 729

Defense keeps Pitt's Big East title hopes alive

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- With a victory at nationally ranked Virginia Tech just behind them and Miami ahead, this was a perfect time for a letdown by the Pitt Panthers.

Terrence Stubbs and Temple made life tough for Pitt, which pulled it out late.

A letdown, perhaps, but not a loss.

Claude Harriott scored the deciding touchdown on an 11-yard fumble return early in the fourth quarter and Pittsburgh (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) set up two other touchdowns with big defensive plays to hold off stubborn Temple 29-22 Saturday.

Rod Rutherford threw for two touchdowns and ran for another even as Pitt mounted only one sustained drive against a Temple defense that held the Panthers to minus yards rushing until late in the third quarter.

The Panthers (8-2, 5-0 in Big East), nationally ranked for the first time in 11 years, overcame a 16-7 deficit, a 341-189 Temple yardage advantage and five field goals by Cap Poklemba to win for the 14th time in 16 games dating to last season.

Pitt is assured its first eight-win season since 1989 and has won 22 games the last three seasons under coach Walt Harris -- the most in a three-year span since 1987-89.

"The eighth win is exciting, but I don't think we're done,'' Harris said. "Nine wins look better, and that's the next step.''

Up next is a Nov. 21 game at No. 2 Miami that most likely will decide the Big East championship, with rival West Virginia following on Nov. 30.

"We were 2-9 my first year here (in 1998), so winning eight games and playing for the Big East means a lot to me,'' said Brian Beinecke, who tormented Temple all day by making 15 tackles -- seven for losses.

Temple (3-7, 1-4) threatened for the second time in three games to upset a ranked opponent -- the Owls lost 20-10 to Virginia Tech on Oct. 26 -- but couldn't score coax another touchdown out of its no-huddle spread offense after Tanardo Sharps' 5-yard run on its first possession.

The Owls committed four turnovers, all in the second half.

"We executed well, but we need to find ways to win,'' Temple coach Bobby Wallace said. "The turnovers were the biggest difference in the game and we didn't recover the fumbles.''

As well as Temple's defense played in limiting Rutherford, the Big East total yardage leader, to 125 yards passing and 24 rushing, the Owls couldn't overcome a succession of mistakes.

The first came when Shawntae Spencer partially blocked Garvin Ringwelski's punt, which traveled only 16 yards to give Pitt excellent field position at the Temple 32. Rutherford then hit Larry Fitzgerald for 18 yards and tight end Kris Wilson for 14 yards on successive plays to tie it at 7.

Still, Pitt didn't take the lead until Rutherford's 1-yard sneak and his 2-point conversion pass to Kris Wilson midway through the third quarter made it 22-19. Vince Crochunis scooped up a Mike McGann fumble caused by Beinecke and returned it to the Temple 11 ahead of the score.

Poklemba's fifth field goal tied it at 22, but McGann fumbled again under a heavy rush and Harriott carried it into the end zone with 12:32 remaining. Harriott has forced seven fumbles this season, but the touchdown return was his first.

"I came clean up the middle and I tried to tomahawk the ball,'' said linebacker Brian Guzek, who forced the fumble. "I started cheering when Claude picked it up because I knew he would score.''

Pitt forced two more turnovers later in the quarter, a fumble and a McGann interception as Temple's record against ranked opponents dropped to 1-39 since the Big East football play began in 1991.

Poklemba, who set a Big East record with his five field goals, put Temple up 16-7 with kicks of 41, 23, and 33 yards after the Sharps touchdown. But Pitt's offense responded with its only sustained drive as Rutherford hit Roosevelt Bynes for 30 yards and Lamar Slade for 20 ahead of a 4-yard score to Fitzgerald, who made a leaping catch over defensive back Terrance Leftwich on a fade route.

The scoring catch was the fourth in two games for Fitzgerald, who made three in a 28-22 upset of then-No. 3 Virginia Tech last week.

Pitt is 5-0 in the Big East for the first time and has won nine straight in the conference since a 45-7 loss to Boston College last season.

During the game, Pitt honored former star Dan Marino for his election to college football's Hall of Fame.