The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


November 11, 2013

Pitt all business after big victory

PITTSBURGH — Pitt coach Paul Chryst expected his team to feel pretty good following a

28-21 upset of Notre Dame on Saturday.

What pleased him the most, however, was what he didn’t see when he walked into the team’s practice facility on Sunday morning.

“It wasn’t like guys were all of a sudden skipping into the building and whistling Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” Chryst said with a laugh.

Sorry, but even after the most significant win of Chryst’s short two-year tenure, the Panthers (5-4, 2-3 ACC) hardly feel as if they’ve arrived. Sure, beating the Fighting Irish on national television at home with dozens of recruits in attendance to move a game closer to bowl eligibility is nice. The season, however, is far from over.

“I know I’ve only got three more games left in my college career at this point,” senior offensive lineman Ryan Schlieper said. “I know I want that extra game. I know a lot of other guys do too.”

The Panthers need to win at least one of their final three to make it to a sixth straight bowl game. The prospects look considerably brighter after they found a way to rally by the Irish.

The ending was a marked departure for Pitt. The Panthers have made a habit in recent seasons of letting winnable, notable games slip away, including a triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame in 2012.

Pitt came in 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less under Chryst, yet this time there was a decidedly different vibe on the sideline following defensive back Ray Vinopal’s 40-yard interception return in the fourth quarter that gave the Panthers the ball deep in Irish territory with a chance to go in front.

“We all kind of looked at each other on the sideline and said this is the time,” quarterback Tom Savage said. “It’s time to go out there and answer because I think we were due.”

Conner, whose playing time has been limited recently due to a shoulder injury, bulled over for his second touchdown of the game a minute later and Pitt’s quickly improving defense made it stand up.

Vinopal, who deactivated his Twitter account earlier this season after a poor performance against Duke, had a hand in all three of Pitt’s takeaways. He forced TJ Jones’ fumble deep in Panther territory to end a Notre Dame scoring threat in the second quarter.

He leapt in front of a Tommy Rees pass in the end zone early in the fourth quarter to stymie another Irish drive before his second pick put the Panthers in position to win.

Chryst praised Vinopal’s mental toughness and believes Vinopal’s resilience mirrors the growth of a team that still believes it can be a factor in the ACC Coastal Division.

“I think that we all look around and see how people respond and maybe those same people will look at how he responds after having that game last week,” Chryst said. “I’m confident he’ll be the same guy he’s been every Monday this season. I think all of those things factor in and are important: How you act, how you handle adversity, how you handle success. He’s one of those guys that you want the young guys to emulate.”

Vinopal insists he’s just trying to help the Panthers improve and credited Chryst for changing the culture in a locker room that has gone through several coaching changes. He loves that Chryst is “connected” to the program and not separated by the coaching staff. He appreciates the way Chryst expects his team to win every week regardless of the opponent and doesn’t change no matter how good – or how bad – it gets.

The Panthers host surging North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) on Sunday. If they trip up, all the momentum they built against the Irish will vanish. It wouldn’t be the first time. Pitt lost its first two games under Chryst in 2012 before rocking then 13th-ranked Virginia Tech at home. The hangover lingered and the Panthers didn’t beat an FBS program for six weeks.

Those memories remain fresh. As great as Saturday night was, it was just one night.

“It feels good to win,” Chryst said. “What we choose to do with it going forward, that’s up to us.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Hawks already building toward next season

    Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
    Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.

    April 16, 2014

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0416 Penguins rally to wear out Jackets

    Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
    Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shelley and McElligot Series serves as reunion for former Chiefs personnel

    Not so long ago, Bob McElligott, like most Western Pennsylvania hockey fans, would savor a long Pittsburgh Penguins playoff run.
    The Somerset native followed the Pens’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malkin nearing return

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest NHL team to the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least geographically. The two franchises are separated by 185 miles of highway.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reds swing way past Pirates

    Mike Leake doubled and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, ending Gerrit Cole's winning streak and leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that completed two days full of homers and delays.
    First, the NL Central rivals completed a game that was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain the previous night.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pitt ends its spring practices

    No tailgating.
    No trip to a local high school.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pirates Game 1 0415 Pirates edge out Reds in suspended game

    After all those home runs and an overnight delay, it was settled by a single.
    Andrew McCutchen doubled and came around on Russell Martin’s single in the seventh inning on Tuesday, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates an 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the completion of a game that spanned two days and 10 home runs.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • track_B1 WestPAC relays go to Windber boys, Berlin girls

    Rain showers and dropping temperatures put a damper on Monday’s WestPAC Relays at Berlin Brothersvalley High School.
    For the Berlin girls and the boys from Windber, however, discomfort was not much of a factor.
    The Mountaineers won their third straight relay title while the Ramblers reclaimed the title from defending champ Shade.

    April 14, 2014 2 Photos