Has there been a Pitt player that has taken more negative comments on message boards during this season besides junior safety Ray Vinopal? If there has been, it's a close race. Many (including myself at times) have pointed him out specifically as a big weakness for this defense. Throughout it all, Vinopal has kept his head down and kept plugging away and late last night, it paid off. The Youngstown, OH native made several key plays during the game and that is why he is our Panther of the Game.
Vinopal finished the game with seven tackles (unofficially), one forced fumble, and two interceptions to lead Pitt to the upset win of the Irish, 28-21. The turnovers weren't exactly meaningless turnovers right before halftime either. The first came on a big pass play by Notre Dame that covered 34 yards and had T.J. Jones sprinting towards the end zone inside the 10-yard line, before Vinopal came from behind and stripped the football. Lafayette Pitts ended up on the football and the score remained tied at 7-7 in the second quarter.
That was only the third biggest play of the night for Michigan transfer. Vinopal added a HUGE interception in the end zone to keep the score tied at 21 in the fourth quarter and then of course, set up the game-winning touchdown later on with yet another pick that he almost turned into a pick-6. Vinopal followed his blockers down the left sideline, but just stepped out at the 5-yard line, but the momentum was already turned and thanks to Ray, Pitt took the lead for good.
There are not many players that we can happier for than Vinopal and I hope he enjoys this one, because beating Notre Dame is special...making the key plays to take down the Irish will keep you in Pitt fans' memories forever. Just ask Tyler Palko.