Penn State-Pitt Series Ends In Fitting Fashion

Over the past 126 years, Penn State and Pitt’s football series has featured a little bit of everything.

The teams have played contests that were essentially play-ins for a spot the national championship game. Both have managed to rattle off long winning streaks in the once-annual match-up, and there have also been stretches where the series would rock back and forth like a pendulum.

There aren’t many guarantees in college football — and all sports, for that matter — but there’s at least one constant: When Penn State and Pitt take the field, their game will always be among the most competitive and intense in college football because of the pure dislike between the teams.

Saturday’s contest between the Nittany Lions and Panthers was no exception. Penn State escaped with a narrow 17-10 victory at Beaver Stadium in the match-up’s 100th installment. The teams used to square off annually, but each team’s move to the Big Ten and Big East conferences respectively ended any chance of a yearly meeting.

Some of the final scorelines may not reflect this sense of competitiveness — think last year’s 51-6 rout and the 48-14 Penn State win that dashed the Panthers’ national title hopes in 1981. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a Penn State-Pitt game that these teams and their fans weren’t fully and emotionally invested in.

“This game meant a lot,” senior captain Cam Brown said. “This game meant a lot to people in this city — a lot of people in this state, really. It meant more to the players, as well. It’s going to be missed, but we went out the way we wanted to.”

Penn State and Pitt have scheduled two four-game series since the yearly tradition ended in 1993. The Nittany Lions went 3-1 against their neighbors to the West from 1997 to 2000 before the series went dormant again. It took 16 years for the series to reignite, and today’s victory capped off Penn State’s second consecutive 3-1 series win over the Panthers.

Those matching 3-1 records weren’t the only coincidence to pop up after today’s game, which resembled an all-time classic slugfest the two teams played at Beaver Stadium in 1982. Defense reigned supreme throughout both tightly-contested games, and Pitt made a head-scratching decision while his team had the ball at the opponent’s 1-yard line in each.

In 1982, first-year head coach Foge Fazio’s team was down 16-7 in the fourth quarter and was marching down the field on Joe Paterno’s defense. However, Penn State held firm for three downs on the goal line before Fazio elected to kick a field goal. The kick was good, but Penn State immediately responded with a three-pointer of its own to win 19-10 en route to the first national title in program history.

On Saturday, Pat Narduzzi made the exact same decision — but with a drastically different result. Penn State’s defense held firm against Kenny Pickett and the Pitt offense, and the head coach elected to send kicker Alex Kessman and the field goal unit. This time, however, Kessman blasted the chip shot off the upright to give Penn State the ball back, and Pickett’s later two-minute drill came up short as the Nittany Lions secured a huge victory.

At the end of the day, Kessman’s miss and Pickett’s final Hail Mary pass falling to the turf will be among the final images of the series. In a match-up as historic and significant as Penn State-Pitt, legacy is everything.

“One of my main things that I was thinking about was how we will be remembered,” Parsons said. “This being the last game and going so deep into this rivalry, who were the last people to play [Pitt], and how will we be remembered? That’s just something I really thought about, and I just wanted to play my best. That way, I’d remember it as only good.”

Although Pitt won’t be an opponent of Penn State’s at any point in the near future, some of the Nittany Lions wouldn’t mind seeing the series continue.

“I think it should continue,” wide receiver KJ Hamler said. “We say we’re unrivaled, but it’s a little bit of a rivalry in my eyes.”

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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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