One snap. One final play. And the fate of the game between the Pitt Panthers and Clemson Tigers rested directly on the foot of Panthers kicker Chris Blewitt. Despite having an earlier kick blocked and missing an extra point, he wouldn’t be deterred. Blewitt’s final try from 48 yards sailed just inside the left upright and through the posts into Pitt history.
While this year’s Clemson squad hasn’t had quite the same overwhelming presence as last year’s final-4 team that lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the finals, coming into the game against the Panthers, the Tigers had remained undefeated. But even though the team sported a spotless record, Clemson had shown a surprising amount of vulnerability, especially at home.
The Tigers barely eked out a squeaker against a subpar NC State team, needed a last minute comeback to topple Florida State and even let Troy hang around before defeating them just 30-24.
Still, it’d be hard to believe Pitt stood a chance in Death Valley.
That my friends, is why you play the game.
Pitt’s 43-42 victory over then-No.2 Clemson marked the highest ranked opponent the Panthers have defeated since 2007, when the Panthers notched an epic 13-9 upset in Morgantown that robbed West Virginia of a National Championship berth.
The Panthers’ stunning win derailed a number of streaks for Clemson. Coming into the game, the Tigers were the proud owners of a 21-game home winning streak, the longest active streak in the FBS. Clemson’s 46-game winning streak against unranked opponent was the second-longest in the FBS. The conference loss was the Tigers’ first since 2014, snapping a 14-game ACC winning streak.
Adios. See you later. Sayonara.
All those accomplishments flew out the window, and the Tigers’ spot in this year’s final-4 is now very much in jeopardy.
But what does this historic upheaval mean for Pitt?
After losing a heartbreaker at home to Virginia Tech and then getting steamrolled by Miami on the road, Pitt’s season seemed to be heading down the tubes. All but eliminated from a chance at the ACC Coastal division, a loss to Clemson would’ve dropped Pitt to 5-5, and the Panthers would have needed to work to even guarantee a bowl game. Now, they’re 6-4.
Following the unlikely triumph, Pitt now hopes to ride the emotional wave to a strong finish. With home tilts against Duke (4-6) and Syracuse (4-6) remaining on the schedule — both games where the Panthers should be favored — Pitt is in position to do just that.
Assuming the Panthers win out, finishing 8-4 for a second consecutive regular season might not be quite what the team had in mind at the year’s outset, but, after a tumultuous run, Pitt faithful will gladly take it.
Touting wins against two top-10 teams — No. 5 Clemson and No. 9 Penn State (rankings come from the AP Poll) — the case could easily be made that this season has been more successful than the last.
Even the Panthers’ losses, for the most part, haven’t been terrible ones. They lost by a touchdown at Oklahoma State, which is now ranked 13th. Two of Pitt’s other losses came at the hands of Virginia Tech and North Carolina, both of which had been ranked heading into the weekend before losing; the teams still received votes in the AP Poll.
Running the table to an eight-win finish, coupled with two marquee victories, could propel Pitt into a reasonably meaningful bowl game. It would also mean the Panthers get a shot at a nine-win season for the first time since 2009.
The 43-42 stunner might not ultimately cost Clemson a national title shot, but the Panthers don’t care much about that.
Spring-boarding off the historic upset and putting together a season to remember is now Pitt’s ultimate prize.
Image credit: Pete Madia