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Rutherford scores only TD as Panthers stymie Lions

Sunday, September 17, 2000

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Pitt didn't beat Penn State on trick plays or lucky bounces.

The Panthers beat their archrivals straight up.

  Rod Rutherford weaves his way through the Penn State defense for a 62-yard touchdown reception to give Pitt a 9-0 lead in the third quarter yesterday. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

"I don't think they were confused," Pitt quarterback/receiver/kickoff returner Rod Rutherford said. "I think they knew what they were going to get. It's just that, how are you going to stop it?"

The Nittany Lions didn't.

Pitt (3-0) used a balanced offense -- keyed at times by Rutherford -- and a swarming defense to shut out Penn State, 12-0, in front of 61,221 yesterday at Three Rivers Stadium in the final scheduled game between the two schools.

The victory ended a seven-game losing streak for Pitt in the series, which dates to 1893 but now goes on hiatus. With scheduling commitments on the part of both schools, the soonest the teams could meet again in the regular season is 2008.

The best chance the Nittany Lions (1-3) had of scoring was a 50-yard field-goal attempt by David Kimball in the third quarter. It went wide right.

Senior John Turman took hold of the Pitt quarterback job, completing 11 of 19 passes for 272 yards. Senior Kevan Barlow had 99 of the Panthers' 107 yards rushing. Junior defensive end Bryan Knight had three sacks and a pass deflection.

It was Rutherford who added another dimension to the Panthers. A redshirt freshman, Rutherford made occasional appearances 3/4 at Coach Walt Harris' discretion 3/4 as quarterback, receiver and once as a kickoff return man.

Pitt 12,
Penn State 0

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"We're trying to win any way we can, utilize our personnel any way we can," Harris said. "Rod has talent. Rod has a chance to be a good football player. He is so poised and such a great athlete. And he just made plays."

He made the biggest one of the game.

Pitt, holding a slim 3-0 lead just after halftime, had a first down at its 38.

In came Rutherford, lined up as a receiver in the slot. He went in motion to the right and saw an opening in the flat, underneath the linebackers. That's where Turman found him.

Rutherford caught the pass around Pitt's 48, headed toward the sideline, then cut back to his right to the middle of the field. He eluded linebacker Ron Graham, then cut past cornerbacks Bhawoh Jue and Bruce Branch.

"It seemed like the end zone kept moving back," Rutherford said.

He reached it, though, for a 62-yard touchdown play, giving Pitt a 9-0 lead with 14:15 left in the third quarter.

"I saw him coming open," Turman said. "I just held onto it. Rod made a great run. He hit the sideline, then cut back. He did a great job."

Harris said the play didn't go off exactly as planned -- Rutherford was supposed to run outside of the linebackers, not underneath them, but no one on Pitt's sideline was complaining.

Rutherford, a Perry Traditional Academy graduate who picked Pitt over Penn State less than two years ago, was in as early as the second play of Pitt's second series. He played mostly at quarterback -- and mostly in option situations -- but lined up some at receiver.

"Any time you have a third weapon like that, it helps," Nittany Lions defensive end Justin Kurpeikis said. "He made a difference today, but I don't think it was the difference that won the game."

He might beg an argument there.

  Walt Harris celebrates after Pitt's shutout victory. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Although the Panthers were able to move the ball, their only other points came on Nick Lotz's 29-yard field goal in the second quarter and his 39-yarder with 8:38 left in the game.

Turnovers and penalties plagued both teams. So if Rutherford wasn't the difference, it must have been the Pitt defense, which held Penn State to 64 yards rushing, 225 yards overall.

"I told our team that I learned a long time ago that if you don't let them score anything, you'll have trouble losing," Harris said.

Knight, who now has seven sacks in three games, said the Nittany Lions couldn't deal with Pitt's defense.

"They were getting kind of frustrated with our stunting and things," he said.

There was no scoring in the first quarter, with Penn State thwarted by two interference penalties that wiped out long pass plays into Pitt's end of the field.

Lotz's first field goal ended a 12-play, 62-yard drive and gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead with 9:37 left in the second quarter.

After Rutherford's touchdown -- Pitt failed on a two-point conversion attempt -- the Nittany Lions marched down the field. But tailback Larry Johnson fumbled the ball when he was hit by defensive end Ryan Smith and defensive tackle Joe Conlin recovered the ball for the Panthers.

That and Kimball's missed field goal later in the third quarter pretty well finished Penn State.

"They're going to be a good football team," Nittany Lions Coach Joe Paterno said.

On this day, maybe Pitt already was.

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