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The Top-Five Penn State vs. Pitt Football Games Of All Time

Penn State’s long-winding football series against Pitt will come to a close for the foreseeable future on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

The Nittany Lions and Panthers will close out their four-game series at noon Saturday under Stripe Out conditions in Happy Valley. Penn State leads the all-time series 52-43-4, and both teams have produced memorable victories since they first squared off all the way back in 1893.

Let’s take a look back at the five best football games between Penn State and Pitt of all-time.

5. 1986: No. 2 Penn State 34, Pitt 14

The 1986 Penn State-Pitt contest was an objectively bad football game. However, you simply can’t leave it off the list because of its implications for the Nittany Lions and because of the fact that it’s a perfect example of just how much these two teams hate each other.

Then-No. 2 Penn State secured its spot in a second consecutive national title game with a 34-14 victory over Pitt. Joe Paterno’s squad slowly, but surely fended off its noisy neighbors from the West in the final game of the 1986 regular season. The win was in no small part thanks to a 91-yard kick return touchdown by sophomore Blair Thomas.

The mutual hatred between both teams was on full display thanks to multiple in-game scuffles and fights, according to Daily Collegian archives. Paterno himself raced down the field to break up one of many altercations at Beaver Stadium that day. TV microphones even picked up him referring to the fighting players as a “disgrace.”

Pitt returner Teryl Austin flipped a ball towards Penn State linebacker Brian Chizmar’s face after being pushed out of bounds, and a huge brawl ensued after that. In case you needed any reminder, these two teams do not like each other.

4. 1977: No. 9 Penn State 15, No. 10 Pitt 13

Penn State’s gritty, tough 15-13 victory over Pitt in 1977 is the perfect example of “old-school” college football.

A snowstorm was making its way through Pittsburgh as the two teams squared off at the old Pitt Stadium. Temperatures at kickoff were 25 degrees, but it felt like closer to zero degrees thanks to the wind chill caused by the cold front sweeping through the Steel City.

According to the Allentown Morning Call, Joe Paterno made his players deal with the brutally-chilly conditions by banning his players from wearing gloves or sweatshirts throughout the game. Regardless, Paterno’s team came out on top by a two-point margin of victory. Matt Millen made a stop on Pitt’s Elliott Walker just shy of the goal line as Walker tried to score a potential game-tying two-point conversion, which gave the Nittany Lions a huge victory in the series.

Penn State’s swarming defense recorded five sacks of Pitt quarterback Matt Cavanaugh, and it also picked off three of the Panthers’ signal-caller’s passes throughout the game.

3. 2016: Pitt 42, Penn State 39

Penn State fans may not want to remember this contest, but it honestly deserves a spot on the top-five list of all-time meetings in the series — both as a football game and a spectacle.

As a football game, Penn State and Pitt definitely delivered a high-quality affair. The Panthers took a quick 28-7 lead early in the second quarter, but James Franklin’s team made a furious comeback to nearly tie the game on multiple occasions. Saquon Barkley’s five-touchdown effort definitely didn’t hurt the Nittany Lions’ comeback bid. Penn State was marching down the field late in the fourth quarter with a three-point deficit. However, Trace McSorley’s deep shot resulted in an interception that sealed a 42-39 victory for Pitt.

The first Penn State-Pitt meeting in 16 years was also a huge spectacle. To this day, the game is the highest-attended sporting event in the city of Pittsburgh’s history after a crowd of 69,983 fans packed into Heinz Field on that sunny September afternoon.

Penn State would exact its revenge in 2017 and 2018 by winning the next two Pitt games by a combined score of 84-20. Barkley had another huge day in a 33-14 win at Beaver Stadium before the Nittany Lions trounced the Panthers 51-6 last season.

2. 1982: No. 2 Penn State 19, No. 5 Pitt 10

Keeping your national title dreams alive against an in-state nemesis is pretty sweet. Joe Paterno, Todd Blackledge, and the 1982 Penn State Nittany Lions got to do just that in 1982.

The No. 5 Panthers had the opportunity to play spoiler against No. 2 Penn State at Beaver Stadium. Pitt took a 7-3 advantage into halftime, but a huge performance from Penn State star running back Curt Warner (118 yards on 22 carries) helped the Nittany Lions claw their way to a lead.

Todd Blackledge threw a 31-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kenny Jackson in the third quarter. That score gave Penn State a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game, but a controversial decision by first-year Pitt head coach Serafino “Foge” Fazio worked out in the Nittany Lions’ favor.

Fazio elected to send his special teams unit onto the field with the ball at Penn State’s 1-yard line facing a 16-7 deficit. Pitt converted that field goal in the fourth quarter, and Paterno’s Nittany Lions tacked on another to punch its ticket to the Sugar Bowl, which they famously won to claim the programs first-ever national championship.

1. 1981: No. 11 Penn State 48, No. 1 Pitt 14

What’s better than securing your own spot in the national title game? Oh, I don’t know, embarrassing a team on a 17-game winning streak on its own turf. The Nittany Lions’ 48-14 victory in 1981 may not necessarily fit the criteria of “best meeting between two teams of all-time,” but it’s more than fitting for the Penn State-Pitt series.

Football legend Dan Marino was at the helm of then-No. 1 Pitt’s high-flying offense, which lived up to its reputation by taking a 14-0 lead after 15 minutes of play at the old Pitt Stadium. However, Todd Blackledge and the Penn State offense tied the game by halftime, and the Nittany Lions ran away with the contest by outscoring the top-ranked Panthers 34-0 in the second half.

The victory, which Blackledge called “the best game of [his] life,” ended Pitt’s 17-game winning streak and ruined its chances of capturing a first national championship since 1976. Penn State capped off a magical 10-2 season by knocking off USC in that season’s Fiesta Bowl by a final score of 26-10.

Pitt had its own chance to spoil Penn State’s national title hopes one year later. The 1982 win over Pitt may have paved the way for Joe Paterno’s first national title, but this blowout victory has been dubbed as the best rivalry win ever.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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