PITTSBURGH—The Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East) remained in the hunt for bowl-eligibility by handling visiting Rutgers 27-6 on senior day at Heinz Field Saturday. The Scarlet Knights (9-2, 5-1 Big East) entered the game as a top-twenty team but Pitt looked like the better team throughout most of the game.
Ray Graham ran for 113 yards and a TD against Rutgers on Saturday
"It was a good win to get. We're happy for our seniors," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said. "You remember the senior day, you remember what you did during the game and if you play well, it was a good ay all-around."
Chryst feels the team should already be motivated to play any game but a chance for bowl eligibility can only add more motivation.
"You hope [bowl eligibility] is motivation for the opportunity to go win and play another game. That can be a big thing," Chryst said. "I think our guys want to play some more."
Senior Ray Graham fueled the Panthers' offense by gaining 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He also caught five passes for 50 yards. He, along with the other seniors, spoke to the team before the game.
"We told them to leave everything out on the field. If you're not going out today to play, then stay inside the locker room," Graham said. "[My career] went by fast. It seemed like yesterday I was a freshman."
Tino Sunseri completed 21 passes on 39 attempts for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked twice but did not throw an interception.
"We knew that Rutgers was a good defense. When we saw them on tape they flew around," Sunseri said. "We knew we would have to find our niche and what would work for us, then we were able to make adjustments."
The game started as if neither team wanted to gain a first down let alone a score. In a first quarter punt fest, each team punted four times.
The Panthers then caught fire early in the second quarter. They drove 80 yards on eight plays in less than three minutes. Tino Sunseri capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown on a fade to Mike Shanahan and Pitt took a 7-0 lead.
They tried to pad their lead late in the second quarter and faced first down at the Rutgers 3 yard line but Sunseri fumbled the snap and Rutgers’ defensive back Logan Ryan recovered.
It only took the Panthers three plays to get right back into scoring position though after forcing a three-and-out and a Rutgers 29-yard punt. Ray Graham went airborne from the one and flew into the endzone to give Pitt a 14-0 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
In the final minute, Chryst chose to go for more points rather than be content to take a 14-0 lead into halftime. The decision paid off. Sunseri drove the Panthers 55 yards in 1:12 in a hurry-up offense. He hit Ed Tinker on a 13-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left in the first half and Pitt took a 21-0 lead into the locker room.
Tinker filled in as Devin Street was taken to the hospital for observation on his ribs. It was the first time this year Pitt shut out an opponent in the first half.
In the first half, the Scarlet Knights played conservatively on offense. They stuck mostly with a rushing attack, even on third down and long plays. Pitt’s defense held Rutgers to 0 for 12 on third down attempts in the first half and held Rutgers to a mere 50 yards in rushing offense and 207 yards of total offense.
Midway through the third quarter, Pitt went for it on fourth and four. Sunseri hit Shanahan for a 6-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Kevin Harper booted a 39-yard field goal with 6:37 left in the third quarter.
Rutgers broke the scoreboard late in the third quarter when Gary Nova hit Brandon Coleman for an 11-yard touchdown. The two-point attempt failed and Pitt led 24-6 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
Nova, a former Pitt verbal commitment, completed 18 passes on 37 attempts for 157 yards and a touchdown.
On their next possession, the Scarlet Knights crossed midfield while driving again early in the fourth quarter when Nova threw up a pass about 40 yards downfield to no one in particular. Lafayette Pitts camped under the lame duck and pulled in the interception like it was a punt. He returned it 32 yards to the Panther 46-yard line. It was his first interception of the season.
Kevin Harper booted a 25-yard field goal with six minutes left to extend Pitt’s lead to 27-6 and finish the scoring for the game.
The Panthers will now prepare for their last game, which is at South Florida on December 1. They need to win the game in order to qualify for a post-season bowl.