Fitzgerald scores 3 TDs in win


COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) -- There was a time when a trip to Texas A&M was the last thing a team needed coming off a discouraging loss. It was the perfect remedy for Pittsburgh (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP).

Rod Rutherford threw a career-high five touchdown passes with help from his acrobatic receivers -- especially Larry Fitzgerald, who caught three -- in a 37-26 victory over the Aggies on Saturday.

"We had a very difficult loss to deal with last week," Pitt coach Walt Harris said of the upset at Toledo that dropped the Panthers eight spots in the Top 25. "A lot of people jumped off the bandwagon, but those people don't matter."

Rutherford was 14-of-28 for 283 yards and an interception for Pitt (3-1), and Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 135 yards. The Panthers did most of their damage after a lackluster first half that ended with the Aggies (2-2) leading 13-9.

Pitt went up in the third quarter on Princell Brockenbrough's 20-yard touchdown catch. He made a leaping grab in the end zone and gingerly dragged his toes as he flew out of bounds.

Brockenbrough had three catches for 100 yards.

"I call him 'clutch' because he's always making a big play," said Fitzgerald, who added that the victory will allow the Panthers to put last week's 35-31 loss to Toledo behind them.

Texas A&M came right back after Brockenbrough's TD, but Todd Pegram missed a 33-yard field-goal try.

The Panthers kept rolling, and Fitzgerald punctuated the next drive with a 5-yard TD catch.

Fullback Lousaka Polite made it 30-13 late in the third quarter, catching a 6-yard pass from Rutherford -- who was not made available for postgame interviews -- after the Panthers got the ball when A&M returner Terrence Thomas muffed a punt.

A&M's Courtney Lewis scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter, but Rutherford countered with a 49-yard TD pass to Fitzgerald, who made an over-the-shoulder catch near the goal line amid a crowd of Aggies. It was Fitzgerald's 18th TD catch in his last 10 games.

"That catch is tough when there's nobody around you, let alone three guys around you," Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said.

He added that Fitzgerald "may be as good a receiver as I've ever seen."

Franchione, in his first season of rebuilding the once-powerful A&M program, pulled quarterback Reggie McNeal after he was shaken up in the fourth quarter. Dustin Long took over, though Franchione said that McNeal could have returned to the game and that he will study the game film before naming a starter next week at Texas Tech.

"I'd say Reggie would probably start right now," Franchione said.

Pitt struck first after McNeal fumbled the snap on a fourth-and-1 play at the Pitt 8. The Panthers moved back down the field, and five plays later, Fitzgerald outjumped two Aggies for a 34-yard TD catch midway into the first quarter.

David Abdul's extra-point attempt hit the right upright, but he made a 45-yard field goal a few minutes later to make it 9-0.

The A&M offense got rolling late in the quarter, with McNeal leading a 10-play drive that ended with soft lob to Jamaar Taylor in the left side of the end zone. Taylor finished with six catches for 110 yards.

The Panthers appeared ready to retake the lead when Brockenbrough caught a short pass on the left side, broke free from a Sean Weston tackle and sprinted 67 yards down the left sideline with Bryant Singleton in pursuit.

Singleton made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 8. On the next play, Rutherford's pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone was picked off by Byron Jones.

The Aggies drove to the Pitt 14 and, on third-and-1, appeared to have a first down and maybe a touchdown on Derek Farmer's run when the referees blew the play dead on a flag thrown by line judge Dennis Guerra.

After a brief officials' conference, referee Dennis Hennigan waived off the foul, but the Aggies were unable to move the chains and settled for a 31-yard field goal for a 10-9 lead midway into the second quarter.

Franchione said the crew explained the ball was dead because Hennigan had not whistled the ball ready for play. Franchione called it an "officiating administrative" error.