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The History Of The Penn State-Pitt Football Series

Penn State and Pitt will meet for the 100th time September 14 at Noon in Beaver Stadium, but the Nittany Lions and Panthers have a long series history dating back to the very beginnings of each program.

The two teams first met in 1893, when Penn State came out on top by a final score of 32-0 in the first game played at the old Beaver Field.

Penn State leads the all-time series with a 51-43-4 record against the Panthers, but its success did not come without hardships in the beginnings of the series’ long history.

The Nittany Lions took 12 of the first 15 games of the series before Pitt really took control from 1913 to 1940. In that span, the Panthers won 21 of 25 meetings, including a 14-game win streak from 1922 to 1938. That streak is the longest in series history, but Penn State’s fortunes soon turned.

After winning 13 of 26 meetings from 1940 to 1965, Penn State hired Joe Paterno as its head coach ahead of the 1966 season. Paterno’s hiring marked the beginning of a ten-game win streak for the Nittany Lions, their longest in the series’ history.

Paterno’s first loss to Pitt came in 1976 in Pittsburgh, one year after his team escaped the Steel City with a 7-6 victory. That defeat propelled the Panthers to the Sugar Bowl, where they defeated Georgia en route to a national championship.

The Nittany Lions exacted their revenge in a similarly season-defining victory six years later. No. 2 Penn State hosted No. 5 Pitt at Beaver Stadium, needing a victory to secure its spot in the national championship game against Georgia. Joe Paterno’s team got just that, taking a 19-10 decision to secure its spot in the title game.

Quarterback Todd Blackledge, who will be one of ABC’s commentators for this season’s Penn State-Pitt meeting, passed for 149 yards and a touchdown in the victory. Strangely, Pitt head coach Foge Fazio elected to kick a field goal on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter while down by nine points, much to the chagrin of his players.

Pitt had another chance to spoil Penn State’s national title aspirations in 1986, but the Nittany Lions dominated to clinch a national title game appearance against Miami (FL). Blair Thomas returned a kickoff 91 yards for a score immediately after Pitt took a 7-3 lead, setting the tone for an emphatic 34-14 victory at Beaver Stadium.

The Nittany Lions famously took home a national championship in 1986, shutting down a high-flying Miami offense led by Vinny Testaverde.

The two teams met every season from 1935 to 1992, but Penn State’s move to the Big Ten ended the annual tradition. The Nittany Lions won 33 of 57 meetings during that stretch, including a 65-9 rout in 1968 and a 57-13 blowout in the final meeting of the annual series.

A four-game set from 1997 to 2000 marked Paterno’s last involvement in the matchup. Penn State took the first three meetings by a combined total of 27 points, but the Panthers won the final showdown at Three Rivers Stadium. Paterno finished with a dominant record of 23-7-1 against Pitt.

The series was reignited in 2016 as Penn State traveled to Heinz Field in week two of that season. Despite a strong comeback effort, the Nittany Lions fell 42-39, giving Pitt consecutive wins in the series for the first time since 1987 and 1988.

Once Pitt returned to Beaver Stadium, however, the Nittany Lions recovered and won in convincing fashion. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley had big games for Penn State, and Marcus Allen’s bone-crunching tackle on Pitt running back Darrin Hall resulted in a game-clinching safety.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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