Pitt overcame the odds to defeat Duke 54-45 at Heinz Field on Saturday, delivering many in the city of Pittsburgh a moment of joy when they needed one most.
Hours before the game, a tragedy befell the city, as a gunman opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood adjacent to Oakland, where Pitt’s campus is located. Eleven people were killed in the shooting.
Out of respect for the victims, their families, and others mourning the tragedy, the university announced after Saturday’s game that it would darken its Victory Lights, which traditionally illuminate the Cathedral of Learning after its teams’ wins.
The Victory Lights will be darkened tonight as we mourn the victims of Tree of Life Synagogue. Our hearts, our thoughts, our prayers are with each of you.— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) October 27, 2018
The gesture from the university was one of many from institutions and major figures in Pittsburgh showing their support in the wake of the shooting. It also reflected the feelings of the team, as the players acknowledged that their focus was divided during the game.
Safety Dennis Briggs, a native of nearby Wilkinsburg, commented on the difficulty of playing while coping with the tragedy during a postgame interview.
“Obviously, it was a terrible day and a somber day in Pittsburgh,“ Briggs said. “It’s tough because the world doesn’t stop, and you still have a job to do, but there are things way bigger than the game we had today and football in general.”
But while the day’s events loomed large in the players’ minds, the cloud hanging over the city served as a call to action. Kicker Alex Kessman said as much in his comments after the game.
”You never think it would happen to you in your city or anything like that,” Kessman said. “It’s just so tragic. We came out and wanted to give Pittsburgh something to cheer for and to lighten their day up. So that’s who we did it for. We did it for them and their families.”
To that end, the Panthers were successful, as they put on perhaps their most exciting performance of the season, edging out the Blue Devils for a come-from-behind win. While that may serve as little solace to some, for others, it provided a necessary distraction during a dark time for the city.
With the win, Pitt improved to 3-1 in conference and now ranks second in the ACC Coastal. The team is set to face Virginia, the top-ranked team in the division, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.