Updated 19 hours ago
The last bars of the Pitt fight song faded into the cold, night air inside Heinz Field, and it was time for players to head to the locker room and celebrate — in private — the historic 52-22 victory against Virginia Tech.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi ordered his men to jog into the locker room. Senior left guard Connor Dintino, always more obedient servant than rebel, decided to defy his coach on this one Saturday night.
“Narduzzi was telling everyone ‘jog it in,’ and I just walked slow off the field, embracing the last feeling walking off Heinz,” he said.
“I had about 30 family and friends here, just looking right where they sat and seeing them all, knowing it was the last time off Heinz, surreal moment.”
An appropriate description. Without a doubt, surreal is a good way to describe what Pitt has created over the past five games.
After a 3-4 start to the season and embarrassing losses to Penn State, North Carolina and Central Florida in the first five weeks, Pitt is not only alive but one victory from a title.
Beating Virginia Tech gave first-place Pitt (6-4, 5-1) a one-game lead in the ACC Coastal over Virginia (7-3, 4-2). If the Panthers win at Wake Forest or Virginia loses at Georgia Tech next Saturday, Pitt will win the Coastal and punch its ticket to the ACC Championship game – just as Narduzzi predicted in August.
Even now, with the potentially decisive game next on the schedule, Dintino refused to consider what could happen.
“Just another game in the ACC,” he said. “Don’t get caught up in the emotions, don’t look at the standings. It’s just handle business. It’s a business trip down to Wake Forest.”
Just another game is no way to describe what happened at Heinz Field on Saturday.
Pitt’s offense went on a historic rampage through the Virginia Tech defense, setting a school record with 654 yards (492 rushing, 162 passing), the second game this season with more than 600 (Duke, 634). To put that in perspective, Pitt has surpassed 600 only six other times.
Senior running back Qadree Ollison led the way, with personal milestones in rushing yards (235), touchdowns (three) and the longest play in Pitt history – a 97-yard run with 4 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game. That broke teammate Darrin Hall’s record of 92, set last year against at Duke. Hall ran for 186 on only seven carries, including a 73-yard touchdown run after Virginia Tech had inched to within 31-15 in the third quarter.
So, by the waning moments of the fourth quarter, the game was all but decided before Ollison’s run, but there was no less fury connected to it than with anything else that happened Saturday.
When Ollison took the handoff near the goal line, Dintino and fullback George Aston led him through a wide hole in the Hokies’ defense.
“I didn’t get touched for 30-40 yards down the field,” said Ollison, who appeared at his postgame news conference with Aston and six offensive linemen standing behind him on the podium. “It shows how great they blocked the play.”
Dintino said he tried to keep up with Ollison, but cornerback Caleb Farley was closing fast. A stiff arm from Ollison sent Farley to the turf, and Ollison sprinted the rest of the way and flipped into the end zone like he was trying out for the Pitt gymnastics team.
“I was wondering what he was going to do. He just ran right through him,” Dintino said, amazed.
“They’re tough guys,” he said of the two backs. “They’re running through guys. They’re not going to run out of bounds.”
Added Ollison: “As a running back, it’s my job to make a guy miss. It’s my job to run a guy over, not let one guy tackle me.”
As he described it, “just running with power, running violent.”
In the process, Ollison went over 1,000 yards for the season (1,054) and became only the sixth back in Pitt history to reach that total twice (he also did it in 2015). What’s special about the achievement is that two of the other five — Tony Dorsett and James Conner — were there to see it.
With the weekend off after helping the Steelers also reach 52 points two nights earlier on the same turf, Conner addressed the team before the game.
“He said we have an opportunity to do something great today,” Ollison said, “and he was right.”
After Dintino finally reached the locker room, celebrated with his teammates and later met the media, he was asked if any of his tears watered the Heinz Field turf. After all, Narduzzi himself needed a moment to compose himself.
“No tears from the big guy,” Dintino said. “Maybe later. Maybe I’ll cry when I’m with my mom.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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