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U. of Pittsburgh
Football: Botched extra-point attempts cost Pitt

Sunday, September 08, 2002

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It's supposed to be routine. Score a touchdown. Kick an extra point. Twenty yards. Automatic.

Not yesterday.

Pitt defensive lineman Claude Harriott pressures Texas A&M quarterback Dustin Long in the second half yesterday. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Ron Cook
Pitt's tough loss falls on Harris

Pitt WR Fitzgerald
proves he's a player

Pitt Report

Pitt's second-half comeback against No. 20 Texas A&M was interrupted by a three-play sequence in which the Panthers' extra-point unit was penalized twice and J.B. Gibboney missed a 30-yard kick. Pitt later scored a second touchdown in the fourth quarter but failed to convert a two-point conversion, leaving it on the short end of a 14-12 score in front of 45,489 at Heinz Field.

The special teams lapse ruined an afternoon that saw quarterback Rod Rutherford take control of Pitt's offense and silence a vocal student section that had booed and called for freshman Tyler Palko in the first half. It overshadowed the breakout game of freshman Larry Fitzgerald, who emerged as a receiver to watch by catching 10 passes for 103 yards.

And it left the Panthers stunned and confused.

"That's a tough one to swallow," Pitt cornerback Shawntae Spencer said. "I'm kind of bitter about that [kicking situation] because I really don't know what happened."

He wasn't the only one wondering. Coach Walt Harris was at a loss as to why Pitt was flagged for an illegal shift on successive plays.

The Panthers use a swinging-gate look popular in college football on extra points. Everyone but the snapper, holder and kicker initially lines up on the opposite hash mark, then shifts to a conventional formation before the snap. It's designed to give a team the option of running a fake and passing for two points.

Harris had no idea why officials -- it was a Big 12 crew -- twice called penalties.

"They called it an illegal shift, and we've been doing that all last year and one [previous] game this year," Harris said, adding that he was so flustered at the time that later he could not recall the officials' explanation.

He plans to investigate the rules in the coming days.

Pitt struggled in the first half but pulled within 14-6 on Rutherford's 1-yard touchdown run with 13:49 left in the game. His fake to the right and spin move to the left got him across the goal line to cap a nine-play, 84-yard drive.

Rutherford was 7 of 7 for 66 yards on the drive, on his way to completing 20 of 32 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.

After the first illegal shift penalty, Harris said, he called off the formation and doesn't know why the players used it anyway. On the third try, after the two 5-yard penalties, snapper Jonathan Sitter was late running onto the field, and Gibboney's kick from 30 yards out was wide right.

With 2:02 left in the game, the Panthers got within 14-12 when Rutherford's 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kris Wilson in the back of the end zone ended an 11-play, 74-yard drive.

Because of the earlier missed extra point, the Panthers were forced to try for two, but Rutherford's pass on the conversion attempt sailed beyond Fitzgerald in the end zone.

"It was a tough game to play. It was a tough game to lose," Harris said. "It was tough to lose the way we lost it."

Texas A&M (2-0) throttled Pitt (1-1) in the first half, taking a 7-0 lead on Derek Farmer's 1-yard touchdown run and limiting the Panthers to 34 yards of offense, including 1 yard rushing.

The Aggies increased their lead to 14-0 on Farmer's 3-yard touchdown run with 8:42 left in the third quarter. He finished with 91 yards rushing on 21 attempts.

Rutherford was 4-of-10 passing for 26 yards in the first half and heard the displeasure of the Pitt students -- and their cheers when Palko played one series in the second quarter. It didn't deter the redshirt junior, who threw for 143 yards in the second half.

"That's Pittsburgh for you," Rutherford said. "I've been here all my life. I know the fans. I smile at them when they boo me. I smile at them when they cheer for me.

"I'm not a big rah-rah guy, but I had to do that today. I tried to show by example and I tried to get our team up."

Asked what he said to motivate his teammates, Rutherford said there were too many bleeps to repeat it.

Whatever he said, it worked. He got his teammates' attention and earned their respect.

"I think our offense is very proud of Rod and the way he stepped up," center Chad Reed said. "[In past years], he felt like he was in somebody else's huddle. We feel like he's in charge and he's our man.

"At one point, the student section was chanting, 'We want Palko.' He heard it. We all heard it. He said, 'You've got me.'"

Brandon Miree, the second tailback in the game and Pitt's rushing leader with 63 yards on 14 carries, watched Rutherford take the reins.

"Rod really took control," Miree said. "He had 10 guys behind him on the field."

Rutherford was helpless on the sideline, though, when Pitt could not get that extra point.

So was Harris.

"It's hard to live with right now," Harris said.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.

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