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Pitt Football’s Fifteen 3-Point Losses, Ranked

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After Thursday’s game, Pitt has now lost fifteen games by three points or less since 2009. Let’s go through them, in order of psychological damage, because feeling pain is at least feeling something.

NCAA Football: Duke at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt’s three losses this season have been by a total of eleven points. You knew that. Did you know this?

(This tweet was from after the UNC game. It’s fifteen now.)

Now, I believe that nearly every fan base is convinced it is the most miserable; we are not especially hexed; Pitt also won nine games by three or less, including the Penn State game; and Iowa is 3-0 against us in this span and went to the Rose Bowl last year, so we win.

This is how fundamental to reality “Pitt football juuuuust misses” is: I wrote 60% of this article after the UNC game, took too long, realized it was no longer topical, and decided to just wait until the other close loss this season to finish it. Because that’s the thing about the inevitable: it’s inevitable, you idiot.

Bear in mind that this is just games where the final margin was three or less. Because there was also:

  • 2014’s back-and-forth game in Chapel Hill ending with the Tar Heels up five
  • A four point loss at Iowa in 2011, which saw Iowa’s backup QB come into the game trailing 24-3 and end the game by throwing three unanswered TD strikes
  • Another four point loss to Iowa in 2014, this time at home, featuring an ominous 52-yard field goal from the same Hawkeyes kicker that’ll show up later down the list
  • That time we lost to Youngstown State by 14, which wasn’t even close but was miserable
  • The Tyler Ennis game, which wasn’t even football, but was by less than three, and ruined 2014 for me
  • The other other loss this season, @Oklahoma State, which was decided by a late touchdown

Those are just the honorable mentions! That’s right - we’re going through all the near-miss, what-could-have-been, oh-if-only, history-altering losses of the past seven years, ranked by style, their immediate pain inflicted, and the lost joy of what a win would have meant. Hope you like mumbling swear words!

15) November 5, 2011: #23 Cincinnati 26 @ Pitt 23
Game Summary

Style

I’m not really trying to hide personal details anymore - I was attending Pitt during this game, I was paying attention to the football team as much as anyone. But I do not remember this game at all. Reviewing it now, Pitt apparently could’ve tied it late on a 50-yard field goal, but didn’t. In fact, they had ample opportunities - the last score by either team was with nearly fifteen minutes left in the game. The remaining drives: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, turnover on downs, punt, missed field goal, end of game. High Octane!

Ah, well. That trophy is stupid anyway.

Immediate Pain

Pitt dropped to 4-5 in Todd Graham’s inaugural season. This was the first 6-6 season in a string of four straight, the coaching carousel hadn’t started going nuts on us yet, and Graham was still selling us on patience until he gets his guys into his system, so no one felt the creeping dread of inevitability just yet. Heck, Cincy was ranked! Good we even kept it close, right? We’ll get ‘em next year.

(We did not get them next year.)

Consequences

We maybe wouldn’t have gone to the Compass Bowl three years straight if we won this one, but that’s true of pretty much every loss on this list. So, I guess nothing?

14) October 5, 2012: Pitt 13 @ Syracuse 14
Game Summary

Style

A slightly more torturous version of the last entry, the Orange scored all their points in the first quarter. Then they shut down shop, and a Paul Chryst offense manned by Dave Wannstedt’s guys and poisoned by Todd Graham’s ideas was tasked with scoring two touchdowns in forty-five minutes. And the end zones remained undisturbed.

This game I do remember, but only in the sense that every Pitt-Syracuse game is a single lumpy memory of meaningless late-season football. Every year a few more moments get dumped into the blob, and no one to a man could tell you which year was 14-13 and which year it ended 17-14. If Aaron Donald hadn’t blocked an extra point that one time, I would’ve sworn it was a rerun every year.

Immediate Pain

This was a team that by this point had beaten a ranked Virginia Tech and lost to a (FCS) ranked Youngstown State, and it was still Paul Chryst’s first season as head coach. This team wasn’t surprising anyone, good or bad, until a month later when they did that in the worst way possible.

Consequences

This is Syracuse’s only football win over Pitt in the past decade. Had they lost this game, we would’ve currently been sitting on an eleven-game win streak in the rivalry. I think that’s good, though - keeps us honest! Long winning streaks are the devil’s playthings. All the pent-up energy a Duquesne basketball loss is gonna release might break all the pacemakers in the area.

13) November 1, 2014: #24 Duke 51 @ Pitt 48 (2OT)
Game Summary

Style

James Conner went for 263 and three touchdowns, and then Chris Blewitt fulfilled his Hodoresque destiny and guffed a 26-yarder that would’ve won it. That’s right - there can be a high-scoring game where the defense does just barely enough, and you still might lose.

Immediate Pain

Double overtime loss at home, sure, ouch, exhausting, but this was a year removed from Pitt winning at Duke 58-55 (in regulation) so the exact same game happening a year later in the other direction wasn’t exactly a shock.

Consequences

None. Duke football hasn’t been consequential in decades.

12) October 26, 2013: Pitt 21 @ Navy 24
Game Summary

Style

Unknown Sophomore Triple-Option QB Keenan Reynolds kept Navy in it up until a game-ending field goal for the win and in the process foreshadowed Beloved Record-Setting Senior Triple-Option QB Keenan Reynolds murdering us in the Military Bowl last year. Such is life, right?

Immediate Pain

Except this was basically two losses in one. Looking at the 2013 schedule, it seems likely Steve Pederson scheduled this game as a warm-up for the following week’s game in Atlanta against another, faster, more talented triple-option team. So when we lost to Navy, and then immediately following that had to play The Same Team But Better, it turned the week into demoralizing slog of a week that ended exactly as everyone expected.

Consequences

The CBS Sports Network, buoyed by record ratings from this clash of ultratalented rivals, emerged as the true #1 competitor to ESPN. IT has since gone on to produce groundbreaking original content like Time to Schein and Mystik Terracross Championship, and the first CBS Sports Zone Dr. Pepper Bar & Grill is set to open in Times Square this January.

11) November 11, 2010: Pitt 28 @ UConn 30
Game Summary

Style

I’ve asked maybe a dozen people, and the only memory anyone seems to have of this game is UConn converting a fourth down in their own territory late.

Immediate Pain

Pitt wasn’t in striking distance of the rankings but was still in contention for the Big East title, which still meant something at the time. They had started conference play 3-0, and could’ve taken a commanding front seat in the race for an automatic BCS spot. And then they didn’t, so that sucked.

Consequences

Pretty big in retrospect - Pitt wound up as Big East co-champions that year with WVU and UConn. A win here would’ve meant more than just “not the Compass Bowl;” it’s likely Pitt would’ve wound up at the 2011 Fiesta Bowl instead of UConn and gotten the privilege of having their lunch eaten by Oklahoma and losing their coach to Maryland. Now, the butterfly effect is powerful, and it’s just as possible that winning this game would’ve resulted in Pitt dropping a loss somewhere else... but isn’t being 4-0 in conference one of the only things we can really hope to be in this life? Three other things to note:

  1. Yeah, a game that potentially cost us a BCS Bowl is eleventh. Strap in.
  2. “The team that beat us went on to get flogged in a BCS Bowl” is a recurring theme here.
  3. Oh My God, UConn has gone to a major bowl more recently than we have. Oh God. Oh My God.

10) October 27, 2016: #25 Virginia Tech 39 @ Pitt 36
Game Summary

Style

Ignoring the first quarter, this was more or less par for the course for the season as is. The offense did its job, the pass defense didn’t. This game was really over with some time to go in the fourth, and the last Pitt touchdown was the backdoor-cover variety than the desperately-clawing-back kind.

But it counts!

Immediate Pain

Maybe it’s just the calluses developed from years of this team doing this, hardened further by a season in which they seem to be doing this sort of thing a whole bunch, and the point spread being Virginia Tech -3 anyway, but on the relative scale of this list of nightmares this one wasn’t so bad. I think if I did this list a year from now this one would drop a few spots.

Consequences

Virginia Tech fans are no longer afraid of Heinz Field, Ejuan Price’s choice of shorts was a discussion point on College GameDay, and now everyone thinks our coach is a jerk.

9) September 25, 2011: Notre Dame 15 @ Pitt 12
Game Summary

Style

You ever get sent a video titled something like ‘LOL CRAZY FAIL’ and it’s ninety seconds long and you start watching it and then eighty seconds into it nothing bad has happened but this thing has ten million hits so you’re sure it’s not a troll and so the CRAZY FAIL just has to happen in these last ten seconds, and then

Immediate Pain

This was not that great of a Notre Dame team. Pitt is not usually better than Notre Dame. When your chances fall in your lap like that, you have to recognize them for what they are. But then, in 2012, Notre Dame was #4 in the country when we faced them. There’s no way that was gonna be it...

Consequences

Notre Dame fans were happy.

8) September 19, 2015: Pitt 24 @ Iowa 27
Game Summary

Style

Pitt was 2-0, had vanquished two of its demons with wins over Akron and Youngstown State, the wind was at our backs and a song was in our hearts. Pat Is It, the children cheered from their front stoops as the women swooned from their bedroom windows. We were ready to complete the set of OOC revenge wins in Iowa City. And even though the Hawkeyes took an early 10-0 lead, Pitt fought back! Pitt was the team that wouldn’t go away!

They tied it with a minute left in the game, and then the defense held! No gashes up the middle, no receivers down the sideline breaking through a hole in the zone. Iowa was barely in the maroon zone with the clock winding down, and had to settle for a 57-yard field goal attempt to try to win.

This team was different - heart! Moxie! Mental toughness! Things were gonna be different from here on-

Haha, jokes, everything is what it always was and will be and that ball would’ve gone in if it was kicked from Fort Dodge.

Immediate Pain

Like a punch in the gut. You fall over sucking air for a few minutes, you slowly get up, wince a bunch, and you move on. Hurts like hell! But the guy got a good punch in. We were all pretty used to this by this point. Of course a 58 yard field goal is going in against Pitt. The world specifically doesn’t want us to be happy, and it is all a great conspiracy to stop it.

Consequences

This was Week 3. In the real world, Pitt was ranked by Week 7 (topping out at #23) and started the season 6-1 before finishing 8-4. In the theoretical world where Koehn duffed it and Pitt overtook them in overtime, we would’ve started 7-0, won the ACC, and your pets would have all come back to life.

7) September 2, 2010: #15 Pitt 24 @ Utah 27 (OT)
Game Summary

Style

I remember this one: Tino Sunseri’s first start for Pitt was a bit of an aberration, in that he didn’t lose the game by getting sacked at the worst moment, but instead by throwing a pick at the start of overtime. Utah made plenty of mistakes too; ours mattered more.

Immediate Pain

RIP Dion Lewis’ Heisman Campaign
December 27, 2009 - September 2, 2010

Aw, man, remember having high expectations? Because if you started watching Pitt any time after this game, you sure don’t! Sure, the team wasn’t out of the hunt for a strong season after one loss - these were the late Big East years, after all, the curve was a forgiving one - but a top-fifteen team losing out the gate to a Mountain West team sucked (even one that had cleaned their clock in the Fiesta Bowl six years prior).

Consequences

This was the last time Pitt that was AP-ranked for five years, and probably the last time anyone thought particularly highly of Pitt. They had an immediate chance to reclaim their prestige two weeks later at home against Miami, and that went not very good!

Utah wound up ranked for almost the rest of the season, if that helps.

6) September 24, 2016: Pitt 36 @ UNC 37
Game Summary

Style

Blowing a 13-point lead with six minutes left to play is pretty bad, sure. But we had seen worse. (Keep reading. You’re going to see worse.)

That final drive, though.

Man...

I couldn’t have scripted a more painful way to end a game. That’s a lot of converted fourth downs to get emotionally roller coaster’d.

Immediate Pain

I spent the rest of the day mumbling about pass defense to no one in particular. This game solidified our impression of this current team, informed us all of just how much potential was gonna be wasted this season, and presented to us the great question: can a football team win with three competent units and one aggressively useless one? The answer, so far, is “not if the other team is any good.”

Consequences

We probably would’ve been ranked at some point prior to the Virginia Tech game with a win here. Now with the benefit of a few weeks distance, I think it’s safe to say it won’t really affect the result of the Coastal this year, but when our bowl placement sucks again this is the one to really come back to to blame.

5) November 27, 2009: #8 Pitt 16 @ WVU 19
Game Summary

Style

The tax man came to collect on the karmic debt of 13-9. We didn’t have that kind of cache, so he took what he could find. WVU landed a 43-yard field goal to win it as the clock ran out, knocking Pitt out of its most recent stint in the top ten. That was dude’s fourth field goal of the night.

Immediate Pain

Getting field goaled to death sucks (as you recall from Thursday), and it sucks triply when WVU is the one doing it. Also, it sucks having a six game winning streak ended by WVU. Also, it sucks losing a game that close to a rival like that. Also, it sucks losing to West Virginia. Also, it sucks losing! And West Virginia sucks, as a concept. Countin’ down the days to November of 2027 or whenever that next game is.

Consequences

They Had To Ignite That Couch, for one, but more importantly a win here would’ve prevented all of the “consequences” of the game that’s #1 on this list. And that’s almost as bad as just straight-up being #1.

4) January 2, 2015: Pitt 34 vs Houston 35 (2015 Armed Forces Bowl)
Game Summary

Style

This is as high as it is solely on style points. I was coming out of a bad fever, and once it became clear that Pitt had this one - after all, they were up 31-6 in the fourth - I leaned back deep into my luxurious, overstuffed couch and savored a pleasant January afternoon. When the lead’s that big, you stop caring about the particulars of the score. That Houston was coming back didn’t even register until it was much, much too late.

Immediate Pain

Consequences

All Houston has done since this game is go 19-3, beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, and disappoint everyone hoping for an invading force dominating the playoff and/or Big XII.

As for Pitt consequences, nothing really changed. What, was Chryst gonna leave again? It probably didn’t help Joe Rudolph’s head coaching resume, but that wasn’t happening, shut up.

3) November 25, 2011: Pitt 20 @ WVU 21
Game Summary

Style

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. - Ray Bradbury

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. - Shannon Adler

Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends.It's the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs. - Steve Saint

Legacy? What is a legacy?/It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see/I’m Alexander Hamilton, founding father number one supreme/call ya daughter for me/I wrote the Constitution/king of all the duelin’/rappin’ faster than a really fast horse, homie! [beatboxes] - Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton Musical

Immediate Pain/Consequences

As we watched Tino Sunseri crumpled to the ground for the last time, we couldn’t just go, “ah, we’ll get ‘em next year,” because there was no next year. That stung then as it stings now. Because remember how the only thing we really had on Penn State (pre-crisis) was “we got you last?” That’s a double-edged sword.

2) November 3, 2012: Pitt 26 @ #4 Notre Dame 29 (3OT)unde
Game Summary

Style

This isn’t happening.

A 4-4 Pitt team who lost to Youngstown State is not beating Notre Dame. Not this Notre Dame, undefeated Notre Dame, just-crushed-Oklahoma Notre Dame, four-ranked-wins Notre Dame, sixteen and a half point favorites. Pitt is not beating this Notre Dame on the road. Sure, Pitt’s up 10-6 at half. Whatever. Good for them for keeping it close. Something to build on. Well hey, now it’s 20-6 at the end of the third. That’s cool. I’m still not gonna get my hopes up, but I’m tuning in now. Hey, if we can hold them here, it might be tough to OH BULLSH-

Oh, that’s it. They’re driving, they’re gonna spend the rest of the game destroying us at full force, look what’s happening now, they’re about to OH GOD YES KWAUN WILLIAMS REVENGENCE HAS COME

Hold the ball for four minutes. Drive. Something. Don’t go backwards WHY ARE YOU GOING BACKWARDS

Well maybe we can

Nope, nope it’s tied, before I even finished the thought.

Style (Overtime)

It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna OHHHHH HE FUMBLED, HE FUMBLED, IT’S OURS, COME ON, COME ON, COME ON, YES, YES, ALMOST, No

no

no

no

no

how do you

no

nooooooooooo

this isn’t happening

no

Immediate Pain

curl up in a ball and never get out of the ball ever again, ignore all texts and don’t answer to your own name anymore

Consequences

If this was a Pitt team that was going anywhere, this game would have an argument for the #1 spot. But they weren’t, and it’s not. Notre Dame went to the BCS Championship and got thrashed by Alabama. Pitt went to Birmingham. Circle remained unbroken.

1) December 5, 2009: #5 Cincinnati 45 @ #14 Pitt 44
Game Summary

Style

We’ve talked about this game to death but seven years later it’s still the gold standard, so here we are. It had everything. Let’s bullet:

  • Pitt was a top ten team until the prior week’s Backyard Brawl defeat, and was playing for a BCS Bowl berth,
  • Cincy was undefeated coming in, and playing for a potential BCS Championship shot,
  • Jon Baldwin and Dion Lewis combined for five touchdowns in what wound up being the most important games of their careers,
  • Bill Stull’s incompetence on that day was cancelled out by Tony Pike’s,
  • Pitt took leads (at varying points) of 31-10 and 38-24,
  • Dion Lewis actually re-took the lead for Pitt with a minute and a half left, so Pitt only had to not give up a touchdown for ninety seconds,
  • Mardy Gilyard became the football Scottie Reynolds,
  • Cincy’s first lead was with 33 seconds left in the game,
  • The one-point difference was a missed-friggin-extra-friggin-point,
  • SPECIAL TEAMS IS THE WORST ALWAYS

Immediate Pain

This was, in all ways but officially, a conference championship game. This was the only thing standing in the way of Pitt and a BCS berth.

Consequences

The Bearcats completed their undefeated season, made noise about being an undefeated power-conference team and not going to the championship, and then promptly got blown out by Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Pitt hasn’t been to the Sugar Bowl since 1982, and hasn’t played in a major bowl since 2004. Dave Wannstedt was fired the following season, which probably wouldn’t have happened if 2009 ended in New Orleans instead of Charlotte. Everything after this game is rooted in this game.

Pitt hasn’t reached a ranking of #14 or higher in the seven years since, and has never again been this close to a major bowl of any kind.

I’m gonna go curl up in a ball.

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