ACC Memories: Remembering The 2003 Virginia Tech Game

Pitt has a history of playing against Virginia Tech (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Even though Pitt is changing conferences, that doesn't mean they're headed to a schedule devoid of history. In fact, Pitt has winning records against Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Virginia. The only ACC team the Panthers have never faced is Wake Forest. With that in mind, let's take a look back some of the remarkable games against Pitt's future ACC conference-mates, starting with Virginia Tech.

In 2003, Virginia Tech came to Heinz Field in what would be the last match-up of the Panthers and Hokies for nearly a decade. Everyone knew Virginia Tech's gameplan: a steady diet of star running back Kevin Jones. Jones was already on his way to earning All-American and first team All-Big East honors and the Hokies were a hot team that had just taken down previously unbeaten Miami the week before.

Pitt's defense? Not so hot. The week before, the Panther "D" allowed Notre Dame's Julius Jones 262 yards in a loss. They were determined to at least slow Kevin Jones, even if they couldn't stop him.

As the game began, Pitt's defense was able to off to a good start, allowing Jones just eight yards on the Hokie's three-and-out first drive. With the ball out of Jones' hands, it went to the game's other superstar - Larry Fitzgerald - and he took it down the left sideline for a 41-yard pick-up.

Unfortunately, Pitt was unable to capitalize on the Rutherford-Fitzgerald connection and Harris had to eventually settle for a field goal.

Pitt's lead wouldn't last long. Hokie return man Mike Imoh took the kickoff 50 yards and Pitt's defense allowed Jones to rush for 31 yards on three carries to give the Hokies a 7-3 lead. It was the first big play from the Hokies special teams, but it wouldn't be the last.

The remainder of the first quarter became a defensive struggle with each team fumbling away the ball and putting together short drives. That is, until the Hokies' special team put Pitt in prime position in the second quarter after a muffed punt put the Panthers' offense just 30 yards from the endzone. Rutherford found Princell Brockenbrough for back to back first downs and then connected once again with Fitzgerald to put the Panthers in the lead.

Just like in the first quarter, Virginia Tech answered right back. Marcus Vick and Kevin Jones kept the ball on the ground for 48 yards on their next drive to regain the lead 14-10.

The Panthers answered Virginia Tech's answer with a a Rod Rutherford rushing touchdown off another VT fumble to regain the lead, 17-10.

After the half, the Panthers stalled out on their first drive, but punter extraordinaire Andy Lee pinned the Hokies behind their own five yard line. The defense held, got the ball back from to the offense and one 34-yard pass to Kris Wilson later, Pitt was up two scores for the first time.

But the ten point lead was short lived. Kevin Jones took the first rush of the drive 80 yards to the house to cut the Panthers' lead to three. In a game of scores and answers, Virginia Tech had once again answered back.

When the Hokies got the ball back with 14 minutes left in the game, they wasted little time. Marcus Vick completed a huge pass to set up Kevin Jones (who else?) for a 13-yard touchdown. In just 21 seconds, Virginia Tech had regained the lead for the first time since 7-3. The Panthers found themselves down by a touchdown, 28-24.

Pitt was going to have to find a way to come back with the clock ticking down in the fourth. They had their first chance early, when a big play by Kris Wilson was negated by him losing a fumble on the very next play.

After a back-and-forth, the play of the game might have occurred with under 4:30 left in the game. Fourth-and-4. Virginia Tech's offense is stuck in no man's land at the Pitt 30 yard line. Convert a first down and the Hokies are perilously close to putting the game away. A stop gives Pitt one, maybe two, last chances to snag a victory from the jaws of defeat.

The ball's snapped. Vick finds receiver Justin Hamilton down-field - he has the first down and then some. Vick puts the ball in Hamilton's hands to likely win the game for the Hokies - and Hamilton drops it. The ball slipped through his hands. Incomplete. Pitt's chances of stealing this game were still alive, if ever so barely.

Rutherford and the Pitt offense received the ball on their thirty yard line. 4:17 left in the game. Up to this point, Virginia Tech had virtually shut down Larry Fitzgerald since his big catch during their first offensive possession, holding the star receiver to just 4 catches for 18 yards. It was a trend that wouldn't last.

With 70 yard to go, Rutherford hit Fitzgerald three times for 49 of them. The secondary that had covered Fitzgerald like a blanket up until that point was powerless to stop him. Maybe it was the added pressure of watching Kris Wilson under the middle all night, but for whatever reason, on the last drive Larry ran wild. Lousaka Polite was all set up to punch the ball in two yards to put the Panthers up for good. 31-28. Ballgame. Pitt wins.

After the game, there was no one to credit - or blame - but Larry Fitz:

"It's getting tougher and tougher to get him the ball," Harris said. "They doubled and tripled him, but he still got 108 yards. And we used him to help some other guys."

....

"This really hurts," Hokies cornerback Eric Green said. "Nothing explains how we feel. We did a great job against him (Fitzgerald), but we beat ourselves."

Kevin Jones finished the year with over 1,800 total yards, 21 touchdowns and went to the Detroit Lions with the thirtieth pick. Fitzgerald was drafted third by the Arizona Cardinals and finished second in Heisman voting (thanks Ron Cook!).

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt football and basketball.

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