Panther plunders: Pitt’s worst homecoming games


Pitt suffered a 56-28 loss at the 2014 homecoming game against Georgia Tech. (TPN File Photo)

By Brandon Glass | Staff Writer

While the homecoming court trots out onto the field at halftime this Saturday — and two lucky students are crowned king and queen — the Panthers will be in the locker room discussing strategy, diagramming plays and trying to figure out how to make the biggest home game of the season count.

As Pitt gears up for a homecoming showdown against No. 20 North Carolina State at Heinz Field, we look back at some not-so-great moments in Pitt homecoming’s recent history.

Oct 13, 2012 — Pitt vs. No. 18 Louisville (L 45-35)

With the breakup of the Big East looming, first-year head coach Paul Chryst and the Panthers took on a ranked Louisville team stacked with future NFL talent.

The Cardinals featured standout Miami Dolphins wideout Devante Parker, oft-injured Minnesota Viking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Eli Rodgers.

The Panthers did have future Los Angeles Rams all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald, though.

Despite scoring first, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown in the second, and leading 21-17 at the half, the Panthers managed to put themselves entirely out of the game by the end of the third.

Pitt’s defense allowed 21 unanswered points to start the second half, and the Panthers didn’t get within 10 points of the Cardinals for the rest of the game.

The Panthers offense righted the ship in the fourth quarter scoring two touchdowns, and all in all accumulated decent counting stats on the day.

Starting quarterback Tino Sunseri led the way for the Panthers going 27-38 for 287 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. Running back Rushel Shell carried the ball 18 times for 96 yards and a touchdown, and starting wideout Devin Street caught 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Beatdown index: 5. Bad, but not entirely unexpected.

Oct 15, 2011 — Pitt vs. Utah (L 26-14)

Todd Graham’s first and only homecoming game as Pitt’s head coach was one to forget.

The Panthers special teams started the game strong. Utah scored first kicking a field goal to go up, 3-0, but the Panthers responded by returning the following kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Following a three-and-out for the Utes, which featured a Donald sack on third down, the Panthers blocked a punt and returned it for yet another touchdown.

Then, the Panthers became inert for the rest of the game. Pitt punter Matt Yoklic was the Panthers best offensive player. Pitt punted on seven straight possessions, and the Panthers’ final three possessions were a fumble, a turnover on downs and an interception.

Sunseri finished the game 4-11 with a whopping 38 yards passing. As a team, the Panthers finished with a miserable 120 total yards.

Beatdown index: 6 — “It was embarrassing,” Graham said.

Oct 25, 2008 — No. 17 Pitt vs. Rutgers (L 54-34)

The Panthers came into the game ranked No. 17 in the nation and faced off against a mediocre Rutgers squad.

Pitt scored first on a 33-yard scamper from running back, and future NFL star, LeSean McCoy — but the day belonged to the Scarlet Knights’ receivers.

The pair of Rutgers wideouts Tim Brown and Kenny Britt combined for nine catches, 275 yards and five touchdowns. Rutgers took a 34-24 lead into the break and didn’t let up.

McCoy was Pitt’s entire offense on the day, scoring all four Panther touchdowns while carrying the ball 26 times for 146 yards.

Beatdown index: 7.5 — Head Coach Dave Wannstedt’s mustache bristled with disappointment.

Oct 13, 2001 — Pitt vs. Syracuse (L 42-10)

Pitt was in the midst of a full program rebuild during the 2001 season. After being hired to reconstruct Pitt football after a dismal mid-90s run, head coach Walt Harris was entering his fifth season on the job. As expected, the Panthers fell to the best Syracuse squad of this millennium.

The Panthers struck first with a 66-yard touchdown drive and went into the half up 10-7.

However, Pitt turnovers tanked the team in the second half. The Orange had already taken the lead when the Panthers quarterback threw a backbreaking pick-six.

The field was a blur of blue and orange as Syracuse’s defense dominated. The Orange forced three turnovers and held the Panthers to only 47 yards in the second half, while Syracuse running back James Mungro trampled over Pitt’s defense.

The loss extended Harris and the Panthers’ losing streak to four in a row.

Beatdown Index: 8.5 — Pulpy.

Oct 25, 2014 — Pitt vs. Georgia Tech (L 56-28)

Even though Syracuse’s margin of victory in 2001 was higher, the way the Panthers gave away the game against Georgia Tech in 2014 is undoubtedly one of Pitt’s worst homecoming performances yet.

The Panthers made Chryst’s last homecoming game with Pitt that of a nightmare.

Pitt fumbled on their first five possessions of the game and were down 28-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Yellow Jackets scored off of four Pitt turnovers.

Despite the miscues, starting running back James Conner had a great game, carrying the ball 10 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns.

The Panthers and the Yellow Jackets were neck-and-neck for the rest of the game, with each team putting up 28 points in the following three quarters. Too bad all four quarters count.

Pitt fumbled again in the fourth quarter to bring the total to six for the game.

Beatdown Index: 10 — Chryst was already dreaming of greener pastures in Wisconsin.