Remembering Pitt’s finest final moments

Then-seniors Qadree Ollison (30) and Darrin Hall (22) shake hands after Hall surprises Ollison with a game ball on Senior Day — a celebration of the seniors at their last home game — after the Panthers defeated the Hokies Saturday.

Although final exams are undisputedly horrendous, not all things “final” are bad, especially when it comes to sports. Final moments in sports are often truly magical — players going out with a bang in their final seasons, buzzer beaters, last-minute field goals. Pitt sports has had some incredible “final moments” over the years. From historic final seasons to the last game in Pitt Stadium, here are some of the most memorable closures Panther fans have witnessed in the past few decades.

Ollison and Hall lead the way to first Coastal title

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a little recency bias. That certainly holds true here, as tailbacks Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall both had special senior seasons in 2018 for Pitt football. From the stats to the eye test, both backs passed with flying colors and made last season a wild ride for the ages.

The two seniors each rushed for more than 1,000 yards and combined for more than 2,300 total on the ground. The tandem also reached the end zone a total of 21 times and rushed for multiple scores four times. It was rare to see an opponent find a way to slow down the frighteningly talented pairing.

Numbers aside, there were some absolutely absurd moments along the way. Against Virginia in a must-win game, Ollison battled an injury and Hall put the team on his back with a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance. Up 14-13 in a dogfight with under 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, he iced the game with a 75-yard sprint to the endzone. Not to be outdone, Ollison followed that up against Virginia Tech with a 200-yard, three-score outing of his own — including this 97-yard run where he channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch to give Panthers more than 50 points on the day.

In a season where not much was expected from the team, Ollison and Hall’s heroic senior seasons led to the crowning achievement — the Panthers’ first ever ACC Coastal title. It may be some time before the likes of such a talented duo run rampant in Heinz Field again.

The original Big Three: 2008 Pitt basketball

In basketball the term “Big Three” will likely call to mind the 2010-2014 Miami Heat, when Chris Bosh and Lebron James joined Dwayne Wade in South Beach in a move that altered the landscape of the NBA forever. But before James promised “not one, not two …” championships, Panthers basketball had its own version of a Big Three here in Oakland. Sure, Pitt’s Big Three didn’t have the starpower of three future Hall of Famers, but Levance Fields, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair will be forever remembered as the most exciting team to grace the Pete.

Both Fields and Young were seniors, and Blair was drafted, making it his final season, too. Blair earned co-Big East Player of the Year and was a consensus first-team All-American after a dominant season in the post. Sam Young earned third-team All American honors, averaging nearly 20 points a game and wowing the country with his play in the NCAA tournament. Fields led the offense from the point, breaking Pitt’s single season assist record with 270 dimes.

Alas, the season was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The Panthers ranked in the top 10 all season and held the top spot for three total weeks. The trio knocked off No. 1 UConn in both contests, with Young averaging 28 points a game against the Huskies. Their regular season success enabled Pitt to earn the school’s first No. 1 seed as the Panthers plowed all the way to the Elite Eight.

Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds ended their title hopes in the most devastating five seconds in Panther fandom history — an easy selection for the “worst final moment” Pitt sports has ever witnessed. Despite the unhappy ending, Fields, Young and Blair provided endless entertainment for not just Pitt fans, but the entire nation, with three spectacular final seasons.

Tony Dorsett’s Heisman heroics

Pitt has been home to some incredible tailbacks over the years, from Curtis Martin to LeSean McCoy to last year’s aforementioned duo. But the legendary Tony Dorsett sits atop them all as the most prolific rusher Panther football has ever seen. After a ridiculous first three seasons, it’s no shock that his senior year in 1976 was even more impressive.

Dorsett was the unquestioned best player in the country his last year in Oakland. The future Dallas Cowboy rushed for more than 2,000 yards and ran in 22 touchdowns. The Pitt legend led the nation in rushing yards and he finished his career with a then-NCAA record 6,526 yards, a record that would stand for more than 20 years. Dorsett was a first-team All-American twice before and added a third his senior year, along with the prestigious Heisman Trophy and the iconic Walter Camp and Maxwell awards.

Dorsett was also able to do what not many players get the chance to do — go out on top. The 1976 Panthers blew away their competition all season, including wins against ranked rivals in Notre Dame and Penn State. Facing off against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, Dorsett and his squad achieved a 27-3 victory on New Year’s Day. After four years of dominance, Dorsett said farewell to Pitt as not only a legend but a national champion.

Sweet victory: Goodbye Pitt Stadium

Pitt alumni and current students alike grumble about the football team playing at Heinz Field and the absurdity of not having a stadium on campus. That wasn’t always the case — the Panthers used to play their games right here on campus in the dearly missed Pitt Stadium. The arena was home to Pitt football from 1925 to 1999, and after nearly 75 years, the last Pitt football game in Oakland was one to remember.

Facing off against Notre Dame — the Irish had won eight straight against Pitt — the Panthers upset Notre Dame 37-27 to send Pitt Stadium off with a bang. Packed to more than capacity, 60,190 people watched as the final Fighting Irish pass fell incomplete with nine seconds on the clock. The refs waved off the final ticks and hundreds of fans rushed the field. Fans tore down the goal posts, tore up small strips of turf from the field and the players returned to the field to toss equipment in the air in celebration.

With Heinz Field now home to Pitt football, the nostalgia for an on-campus stadium lives on. The final victorious moments of Pitt Stadium live on, too, as fans wait for the day that magic returns from the North Shore to Oakland.

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