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Pitt comes up with a truly grand finale, stunning Notre Dame, 37-27

Sunday, November 14, 1999

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Things certainly could have gone better for D.J. Dinkins during his senior season at Pitt. He lost his starting free safety job and missed a game with a hamstring injury.

 
Jubliant fans carry punter Greg DeBolt off the field yesterday after the Panthers closed Pitt Stadium with a 37-27 victory over Notre Dame. (John Heller, Post-Gazette) 

Yet it was Dinkins -- a Schenley High School graduate who grew up not far from the Pitt campus -- who gave the Panthers a speech before their game yesterday against Notre Dame.

"I told them that we could finally go out and win a game and not come up short this time," Dinkins said. "I told them we could go out and play above and beyond what we had been playing, with all the great players out there that I loved, growing up, who came back to this last game at Pitt Stadium. We could go out with a bang and feel like champions."

And that's just what Pitt did.

The Panthers (5-5) put Pitt Stadium to bed with a rousing 37-27 victory over Notre Dame (5-5) yesterday in front of 60,190.

"D.J.'s speech did help us out a lot," said Panthers junior quarterback John Turman, who shook off his rusty performance of a week ago and completed 10 of 27 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns.

Notre Dame tied it twice, at 10-10 and 17-17, and kept coming back, but Pitt held off the Fighting Irish with a balanced offense, a few big plays on defense and special team play.

And maybe with a little help from the boisterous crowd -- which at game's end brought down the goal posts and tore out pieces of the artificial turf field -- and the attendance of more than 400 football lettermen.

"It was a pressure-packed and emotionally-charged game," Pitt Coach Walt Harris said. "The fans were there from the start. I just wish we didn't have to tear our stadium down to get them to come to the game. I don't know what we're going to do for an encore.

 
   
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Columnist Bob Smizik: Panthers, Irish stage fabulous final game for Pitt Stadium

Pitt Stadium goes out with a bang

 
 

"We know we've disappointed people at times, but the fans make a difference. It was a big-time victory for us. We couldn't do anything else but win. Our guys would not be denied. Our fans would not be denied."

And all those stars from Pitt Stadium's previous 73 years? Harris said they made a difference, too.

"We had so many lettermen here who had been on so many great football teams," Harris said.

"So many great football players came back -- Tony Dorsett, Marshall Goldberg, Bill Fralic, right on down the line. You talk about pressure. You've got to step up to the plate with all those guys sitting in the stands evaluating you and expecting you to send the stadium out on the right note."

Pitt Stadium will be torn down beginning next month to make way for a convocation center, student housing and green space.

For the old bowl's finale, the Panthers ended Notre Dame's eight-game winning streak in the series.

Turman's 9-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Antonio Bryant got things started with 6:23 left in the first quarter.

Notre Dame drew to 7-3 on Jim Sanson's 36-yard field goal, but the Panthers struck back with sophomore Nick Lotz's 24-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with 10:18 left in the second quarter.

The Irish tied it, 10-10, when quarterback Jarious Jackson hit receiver Joey Getherall as he cut across the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass.

It looked like Notre Dame would take a lead into halftime. Linebacker Anthony Denman intercepted a Turman pass, and the Irish drove to Pitt's 19. But Panthers freshman linebacker Scott McCurley blocked Sanson's 36-yard field goal attempt.

"I think that was huge," Harris said. "It was an emotional switch. It went from them going ahead to us having the momentum going in at halftime and getting the fans back in the game. It really was a turning point."

After a halftime filled with celebrations and fireworks in honor of Pitt Stadium, the Panthers increased their lead.

Pitt defensive end Ken Kashubara forced tailback Julius Jones to fumble, and fellow end Bryan Knight recovered it. On first down, Turman hit Bryant for a 44-yard completion, and two plays later, junior tailback Kevan Barlow dragged safety Deke Cooper across the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown and a 17-10 Panthers lead with 9:18 left in the third quarter.

The Irish tied it after an unconventional turnover. When Pitt's Hank Poteat did not field Joey Hildbold's punt, the ball bounced and grazed the back of the Panthers' Demetrious Rich, who was blocking Notre Dame's Clifford Jefferson. Jefferson recovered the ball on the Pitt 33.

 
Latef Grim pulls in a reception in the third quarter setting up a touchdown for the Panthers. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette) 

Four plays later, the Irish used a trick play to score. Receiver David Givens took the ball on a reverse, then pulled up and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bobby Brown, making it 17-17 with 5:27 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers then scored twice.

Lotz hit a 33-yard field goal to make it 20-17.

On Notre Dame's next possession, Pitt free safety Ramon Walker stole the ball from Irish tailback Tony Fisher and returned it 6 yards to the Notre Dame 29. On third down, Turman hit Bryant for a 28-yard touchdown and a 27-17 lead with 1:19 left in the third quarter.

Notre Dame wasn't done. Jackson hit back-to-back passes of 37 yards to Brown and 27 to Givens -- the second one for a touchdown to make it 27-24 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Panthers, though, came right back with Lotz's 44-yard field goal, a career long, to make it 30-24 with 11:03 left in the game.

The Irish again fought back. Jackson's 35-yard pass to tight end Dan O'Leary keyed a drive that ended with Sanson's 39-yard field goal to make it 30-27 with 8:36 left.

The next time Notre Dame had the ball, Pitt's defense made a huge play. Jackson threw a pass for Getherall, but Walker hit the wideout hard just as the pass arrived and the ball popped into the air. McCurley grabbed it and returned the interception 15 yards to the Notre Dame 44.

The Panthers, who have had trouble running the ball most of the season, used the run to increase their lead. Nine of the 10 plays on their subsequent drive were rushes by Barlow. On the final one, he bounced outside left and ran in 2 yards for a touchdown to make it 37-27 with 1:41 remaining.

"How about that?" Harris said. "Running it right down at the end to run the clock out and go in and score. Wow. That's big-time, hard-nosed, tough, we'll-bring-it-to-you football."

After the kickoff, Notre Dame got the ball back on its own 35. The huge crowd held its breath as Jackson hit Brown for 42 yards to the Pitt 13. But the Panthers had good coverage on the next four plays, all incomplete passes.

Pitt would have gotten the ball back with 9 seconds left, except fans poured onto the field and the game was ended.

The Pitt Stadium era was over, but the Panthers felt like they might have found a new beginning.

"We realized that we had to put it all together to win," Grim said. "We did that. We put it all together. We showed fight. That's been the moral of our season: We shall fight."

It just won't be in Pitt Stadium anymore.



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