Editor’s note: This is the 12th in a “Greatest Games” series that will appear in The Pitt… Editor’s note: This is the 12th in a “Greatest Games” series that will appear in The Pitt News the day before each Pitt football game this year. Each part in the series will detail Pitt’s greatest game against that week’s opponent and will contain the original game story as it appeared in The Pitt News. This story was written by Steve Sybert on Oct. 18, 1976.
Though Pitt head coach Johnny Majors admits he is not a man of superlatives, he expressed many after the Panthers’ 36-19 victory over the Miami Hurricanes at Pitt Stadium Saturday.
“Under the circumstances, I think this is the finest hour for our coaching staff and the team that we’ve had,” Majors said. “Certainly, we have an outstanding team with everyone together and everybody well, but under the circumstances, when our confidence was being shaken, we did the things our team and our staff knew they had to do, and it worked out as well as I could ever anticipate it or hope for.”
The “circumstances” of which Majors speaks, of course, are the injuries to his top two quarterbacks, Robert Haygood and Matt Cavanaugh, and having to go with third-stringer, Tom Yewcic, whom he selected just prior to game time, an untested and inexperienced, though very capable, performer.
“Didn’t he do a nice job?” Majors asked reporters after the win. “Handling that ball, handing off – he didn’t make any mistakes. With a young quarterback like Tom in there, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
But it was mostly a team effort, led by one of the nation’s top defenses constantly swarming around the football and causing four interceptions, four fumble recoveries and a safety against the battered Hurricanes. This was the time for the defense to come through and pick up the slack caused by the offense.
“They kept us in complete control of the ball game,” Majors said, “especially in the first half, when we needed them so badly to sustain some momentum and confidence for our team.”
Nearly every defender got in on the act. Cornerback LeRoy Felder got things going defensively for the Panthers by tackling Miami quarterback George Mason, who started in place of injured E.J. Baker, in the end zone for a safety in the middle of the first quarter.
Two minutes later, the defense again helped put more points on the board, when linebacker Arnie Weatherington fell on a fumble at the Miami 30-yard line. Two plays later, Elliot Walker gained 27 yards to the three. Tony Dorsett took a pitch to the right, outran both the right-side defensive end and cornerback, and reached the corner of the end zone for a Pitt touchdown and a 9-0 lead.
An interception by Felder and a fumble recovery by Bob Jurry set up Carson Long field goals of 25 and 39 yards, respectively, to up the Panther margin.
By then, the offense was ready to display its own power. Starting at their own 14-yard line, the Panthers drove for a touchdown in nine plays, sparked by a pair of long gains by Dorsett, who finished the game with 227 yards on 35 carries and edged within 152 yards of Archie Griffin’s career rushing mark.
First, Dorsett broke free at the Pitt 19 for a 44-yard sprint down the left sideline. Three plays later, he took a screen pass from Yewcic near the left sideline, evaded several tackles in reversing his field, and outran just about everyone for the deciding touchdown with only seven seconds remaining in the half.
Sitting on a 22-0 halftime lead, the Panther defense again went to work as the third quarter began – monster back Jeff Delaney grabbed an interception to thwart a Miami drive at the Pitt three, defensive tackle Don Parish sacked Baker to prevent a two-point conversion after the Hurricanes’ first touchdown, and offensive tackle George Messich recovered a fumbled punt to set up the Panthers’ third touchdown.
Capping a drive from the Miami 32, Dorsett took a handoff from Yewcic, took several steps to the left, then handed the ball to Willie Taylor on a reverse, and the Panthers’ multitalented player ran it in for a score and a 29-6 Pitt heading into the final period.
Pitt’s only real defensive lapse of the game occurred moments later, when a blitzing Panther failed to nail quarterback Frank Glover, who capitalized on the error to connect on a 75-yard TD pass to wingback Larry Cain. The pass for two points failed.
But on the Panthers’ next drive, Dorsett showed everyone, including Cotton and Orange Bowl scouts, why he is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, when he took a pitch to the left from Yewcic, turned up the middle, and split the Hurricane defense like a bolt of lightning on his way to a 53-yard touchdown scamper.
“If there ever was a Heisman Trophy winner – under the circumstances, Tony Dorsett played better and was more valuable even when we needed him worse,” Majors said. “When we had a third-team quarterback, he had his greatest day, under the circumstances, and, I’d say, the greatest day of any back that I’ve seen, under the circumstances, period, pro or college or high school.”
Majors is proud and very delighted with the win, “under the circumstances,” of course.