Created on Sunday, 04 November 2012 04:56 Written by Dustin Gabler / Staff Writer
The Pitt football team had an opportunity for a statement win on Saturday that would have given the program the shot in the arm it needs to step in and be competitive in the ACC next year.
The Panthers let that opportunity slip out of their hands — or more like sail wide right.
In the second overtime period of Saturday’s game, the Panthers blew a shot at ending the game in Irish defeat when a field goal kick by redshirt senior Kevin Harper flew to the right of the goalposts, sending the game into a third overtime period, in which the Irish ended the game with a 29-26 victory.
After taking a 20-6 lead over No. 3 Notre Dame heading into the fourth quarter, the Panthers fell apart offensively, defensively and on special teams.
Despite the collapse, it’s important to consider what could have been. What if Pitt had knocked off a BCS national title contender on the road?
We don’t have to look far to see what the ramifications could have been, had Pitt pulled out the upset victory. Five years ago, Pitt shocked No. 2 West Virginia, which had all but packed its bags for the BCS National Championship, and the football program got the shot of adrenaline it desperately needed.
Coming off the dramatic 13-9 victory over the hated rival in 2007, then-head coach Dave Wannstedt kicked his recruiting into gear. Following the upset, he added 10 recruits and finished with the No. 28 recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com.
Tino Sunseri, Mike Shanahan, Shayne Hale, Jarred Holley, Joe Trebitz and Andrew Taglianetti are the remaining players who committed to Pitt in the wake of that epic win — a win that promised brighter horizons and a return to college football’s upper echelon.
Saturday’s 29-26 triple-overtime loss will go down as one of the seniors’ toughest losses, especially given the multiple times that they felt as though they had the game won.
“A couple of times I thought we had it sealed,” Trebitz said. “That’s why you play to the last whistle. You never know what’s going to happen.”
These redshirt seniors’ careers haven’t been what they signed up for, nor have they lived up to the hype required to return Pitt to the ranks of the college football elite.
However, they have had some success, going 38-23 in five years with the program. What that overall record doesn’t say is that Pitt was 19-7 in their first two years, when most were redshirted or received little playing time.
Sunseri knows that Saturday presented them with their best chance of leaving a truly lasting mark on Pitt and possibly help amplify the team for the next batch of recruits.
“You want to knock off a top-five team in the country, and they are a top-five team in the country,” Sunseri said. “They’re a great football team. We had opportunities, and we let them slip.”
They didn’t just let a statement win for 2012 slip. The Panthers let a win that could have propelled them through the rest of the season and offseason slip.
While the loss may not affect the future of Pitt football much, a win certainly would have.
With talented local high school players such as wide receivers Robert Foster and Tyler Boyd and offensive tackle Dorian Johnson all still seriously considering Pitt, Chryst has the opportunity to turn an average recruiting class into a borderline top-25 one.
With a depleted wide receiving corps, Foster and Boyd could instantly receive playing time for the Panthers. Johnson, while it is rare to see a freshman start on the offensive line, would add solid talent to arguably the weakest position group on the team.
Chryst will need to battle through adversity, just as his players will, as they prepare for Connecticut this Friday night.
“It’s going to be hard,” cornerback Lafayette Pitts said. “We got to move on. Time won’t stop, so we just got to keep pushing forward.”
It will be hard for Chryst to recruit without a signature win, but not impossible. The talent is local, giving him a built-in advantage, and the thriving offense he established as the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin still attracts recruits.
It isn’t all bad for the first-year head coach. Many would agree that Pitt has made massive strides since its season-opening loss to Youngstown State. Though disappointing for the Panthers, a three-point triple-overtime loss to a top-five team will certainly seem promising to potential recruits.
As the season winds down, Chryst will need to convince recruits why Pitt is the best choice for them. For the higher-ranked recruits, other schools they will be eyeing up include Ohio State, Alabama, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Chryst’s work is cut out for him in restocking his Panthers’ talent level, and I’m sure he knows how powerful a win would have been.