Tech Survives Halloween Scare, 30-17
Panthers pass often but fail to re-create past upset of Hokies at Pitt Stadium.
October 30, 1999

by Jimmy Robertson
Editor, Hokie Huddler

Here's the safest wager one could ever make.

The Hokies will be the happiest group alive to see Pitt Stadium razed.

Demolish it. Pulverize it. Burn it. Just flat tear it down.

Nearly reliving the nightmare of two years ago, when a 30-23 loss to Panthers cost the Hokies the Big East title, Tech somehow, some way survived its visit to the Steel City, outlasting Pittsburgh 30-17 in front of 42,678 fans on its last visit to Pitt Stadium.

The venue will be torn down after the season as the school begins construction on a new basketball facility. Pittsburgh plans to play its home games at Three Rivers Stadium, the home of the NFL's Steelers next season, next season before sharing a new stadium with the Steelers in 2001.

"That year, if we would have won the game, we would have won the Big East," Tech tailback André Kendrick said. "We had shirts and hats made and they [the Panthers] spoiled it.

"When I walked out into that stadium, I said I refused to walked out of here losing. But I'm glad they're tearing it down. I'll be glad to see this place go."

Kendrick did his part, rushing for a career-high 162 yards on 16 carries. But for the rest of the Hokies, Pitt Stadium nearly turned into a House of Horrors on Halloween Eve.

Trailing 27-7 at halftime, the Panthers went to the airwaves, taking advantage of a Tech defense which missed starting cornerbacks Anthony Midget (groin) and Ike Charlton (eye) for most of the game. Midget missed nearly all of the game, and Charlton, who got poked in the eye, returned for parts of the game, but wasn't 100 percent.

That left redshirt freshman Ronyell Whitaker and redshirt sophomore Larry Austin one-on-one with Pittsburgh receivers Latef Grim and Antonio Bryant. And for the third consecutive game, both receivers racked up more than 100 yards in receiving.

Catching the pinpoint passes of quarterback David Priestley who put on his Pete Gonzalez costume, reminding Tech fans of the former Pittsburgh quarterback who threw four touchdown passes against the Hokies two years ago the Panthers shredded the Big East's best pass defense for 427 yards. Tech went into the game allowing just 119.8 yards per game through the air, but Priestley completed 28 of 46 passes for 407 yards and one touchdown, while Bryant caught 13 passes for 215 yards and Grim added 12 catches for 188 yards.

"They were testing me the whole time," Austin said. "They've got great receivers. You knew they were going to come in passing. They've got a good quarterback and receivers who can make catches. They're the best group we've faced this year."

But the Hokies, who went into the game leading the nation in scoring defense, managed to keep the Panthers out of the end zone when it counted.

Late in the third quarter, Pittsburgh had a first-and-goal at the Tech 1. But a sack by Tech defensive tackle David Pugh and two incompletions by Priestley forced the Panthers to settle for a 23-yard field goal by kicker Nick Lotz. That cut Tech's lead to 27-17.

Bolstered by the momentum of holding the Panthers to a field goal, the Hokies came back with perhaps their most critical drive of the season. Tech went 35 yards in six plays and used Shayne Graham's 52-yard field goal to take a 13-point lead with 11:09 left in the game.

And though the Panthers added some more passing yardage to their gaudy totals, they never came close to sniffing the end zone the rest of the game.

"I give their quarterback a lot of credit," a relieved Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "They didn't have very many bad throws. I kept thinking we were going to get an interception and we were close on a couple. We were close on a couple of fumble recoveries too and we couldn't get those. I just thought they executed very well."

Yet the Panthers couldn't overcome the 20-point halftime deficit. Tech's first score came courtesy of the Pride and Joy team, which finally got off the skids as receiver André Davis blocked a punt on the Panthers' first possession. With the ball at the Panthers' 46, redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick kept the ball on the option, cut back across the green and went 46 yards into the end zone. With the extra point, Tech took a 7-0 lead just over four minutes into the game.

"I was surprised at how quick that opened up," Vick said. "I went left and then I saw all this open field and took off."

Tech took a 10-0 lead near the end of the first quarter on a 46-yard field goal by Graham before the Panthers finally got on the board. Giving Priestley time to throw, the Panthers marched down the field. Priestley completed all four of his pass attempts all to Grim for 69 yards and the Panthers finished the drive off when tailback Nick Goings scored on a 1-yard run with 14:09 left in the first half. The extra point cut the Tech lead to 10-7.

But the Hokies went back to work, padding their lead with three scores in the second quarter. The first came when Vick hit Davis with a beautifully thrown pass for a 37-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead with just under 11 minutes left in the first half.

Then the Hokies got a little lucky. Pittsburgh drove inside the Tech 10 before the Hokies held, forcing the Panthers to go for the field-goal attempt. But Lotz missed a chip shot 27-yard field goal and the Hokies took advantage.

Running at will on the Panthers, Tech went 80 yards in just four plays. The big play came when Kendrick rushed 59 yards to the Pittsburgh 12 on the second play of the drive. Two plays later, Stith scored on a 9-yard run with 3:41 left in the half. The extra point gave Tech a 24-7 lead.

"I was exhausted," Kendrick said. "If it hadn't been for the receivers blocking, I wouldn't have made it that far."

The Hokies added a 32-yard field goal by Graham with seven seconds left in the half to take a 27-7 lead into the locker room. And many thought this would be enough.

"I pointed out to our team that we weren't up as much as Syracuse was," Beamer said, referring to Syracuse's 24-0 halftime lead in a 24-17 win over the Panthers. "And they came back against Syracuse, so I knew they thought they could [against Tech]. I just think it's good execution on their part and part of it is us not playing well."

With the win, Tech is 7-0, marking the first time since 1967 the Hokies have won seven straight to start the season.

But it wasn't easy.

"Overall, I couldn't be happier coming in here and beating this football team," Beamer said. "I've got a lot of respect for them. They play hard, they get after you and they're well-coached. And everyone saw it."