Pitt: Upset win could be turning point
Fans celebrate with Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, who jumped into the stands following the Panthers' upset over No. 10 South Florida.
Pitt's Gus Mustakas (93) and Tommie Duhart (51) celebrate their 26-21 upset over South Florida with fans in Tampa, Fla.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Pitt's goals of winning a Big East Conference championship and getting to a Bowl Championship Series game for the first time since 2004 seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream after the Panthers lost their opener to Bowling Green.
At that point, the Panthers were left for dead, and their season was regarded as another in a string of disappointments under head coach Dave Wannstedt.
Pitt didn't do much to change that perception in the following weeks: an ugly win against Buffalo; a one-point win against a mediocre Iowa team; and a come-from-behind win against Syracuse, the worst team in the conference.
But Thursday, against all odds, the Panthers found a way to upset No. 10 South Florida, 26-21, and, in the course of those three hours, changed the outlook -- and perhaps the fortunes -- of the rest of the season.
Suddenly, a conference championship doesn't seem out of the question. Nor does the Panthers' ability to beat the best teams on their schedule.
If nothing else, the victory means Pitt is relevant again in football for the time being, and that is something few thought would happen after the way the season began.
"I always say it -- what we do isn't always pretty, it isn't always going to be easy -- in fact, we seem to prefer it not being easy -- but we're going to get the job done," said an excited Bill Stull after the game. "I know people weren't giving us a lot of credit after that opening game and we understand that. But the big thing we've strived for all offseason is overcoming adversity.
"It is something we didn't do very well last year, but we've made it a point of emphasis and we are intent on playing our hearts out, fighting and playing our guts out and doing what it takes to win. We've got a long season left, but we're going to keep fighting every week and trying to improve because we've still got our eyes on the goals we set."
The Panthers (4-1, 2-0 in conference) have won four in a row and have shown they can not only handle adversity but that they also can overcome it. They have had to come from behind to win in each of their past three games.
As of today, they are in first in the Big East with five conference games to play.
The Bulls were considered the Big East team to beat and one of the toughest games on the schedule because the Panthers had to travel to Raymond James Stadium. But the victory put Pitt in control of the league.
But don't tell that to the players and coaches, who don't want to get caught looking ahead.
"No, you can't ever get too high or too low, ever, and I think that's what we have been good at -- just staying focused on the next game," said middle linebacker Scott McKillop. "We really need to dial in and focus and take it one game at a time. We have a bye week coming and then we have to prepare for Navy. And if you remember, they came to our house and beat us last year, so I am excited for that game like my teammates are.
"And we know Navy beat Wake Forest last week, so they are not an easy team and we'll need to bring our 'A' game in order to beat them. Tonight we had a great game, we had a great win, but it only counts as one and now we need to move forward."
Interestingly enough, Pitt will face a Navy team that likely pushed the Panthers as close to rock bottom as they had been under Wannstedt. The Midshipmen shredded the defense in a 48-45 win last year at Heinz Field.
Pitt fell to 2-4 with the loss and looked like it was headed for a miserable season. But the game now looks more and more like a turning point. The Panthers rebounded to upset Cincinnati the next week and have won seven of 11 games since, including three against ranked teams.
In six of those wins, the Panthers have come from behind after trailing in the second half.
"It is all about character and we have a lot of character guys on this team," Stull said. "I think we just need to keep finding ways to win and keep focused on coming to play our best every week and the rest will take care of itself."
First Published October 4, 2008 12:53 am