7:45 PM ET, November 8, 2003
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
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.
QB Rod Rutherford's went 24-of-31 for 303 yards to keep the Panthers undefeated in Big East play.
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 remaining.
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 yards.
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 the Panthers.
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 Walker run.
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.