Penn State-Pitt: A closer look at memorable games in the series

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- With the 97th meeting between Penn State and Pittsburgh just days away, a quick scan of the Nittany Lion record book certainly does not do justice to the rich tradition between the two in-state opponents.

In the most-played all-time series in program history, Penn State and Pittsburgh met for the first time in 1893.

For perspective, in the same year that the Nittany Lions and the Panthers kicked off for the first time in Happy Valley, boxers Andy Bowen and Jack Burke fought for seven hours and 19 minutes to no decision for more than 100 rounds.

In that first meeting between the two teams, Penn State shut out Pitt 32-0, under the direction of George "Doc" Hoskins, Penn State Football's first coach in program history.

Ninety-five games later, the Nittany Lions and the Panthers will meet Saturday in Pittsburgh to reopen a series that's been dormant for 16 years.

In his weekly press conference, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin pointed out one particular note ahead of Saturday's game.

"One of the things that I thought was really interesting that I didn't know, 68 of the 96 games have been played in Pittsburgh," Franklin said. "Completely skewed that way, which I just thought was an interesting stat."

An interesting stat for sure, as taking a closer look at the numbers in the series reveals that Penn State played Pittsburgh on the road in consecutive seasons from 1903 to 1930, a total of 28 road games for the Nittany Lions against the Panthers. Penn State and Pitt met yearly from 1900 to 1931.

Penn State and Pitt also met regularly from 1935 to 1992, playing 37 of the 58 outings in the span on the road.

The first time Penn State and Pittsburgh met on the road dates back to 1903, when the Nittany Lions entered the matchup with wins against Pitt in each of the five previous outings. The Nittany Lions defeated the Panthers 59-0, which stands as the largest margin of victory against Pitt in the series - which was nearly topped by a 65-8 win in 1968, on the road.

Flash forward to 1919, Penn State's 17th-straight road game at Pitt where the Nittany Lions had not won a game against the Panthers in a span of six consecutive years.  In front of a crowd of 40,000, a Hugo Bezdek-led Nittany Lion team jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, thanks to a fake punt play that turned into a 92-yard pass reception by All-American Bob Higgins from quarterback Bill Hess. The play still stands as the longest pass play in Penn State Football history.

Moving further along in the series, Penn State and Pitt fans had become accustomed to an annual November matchup against the two teams, usually falling on or around Thanksgiving Day. Penn State's Nov. 23, 1963 game against the Panthers was postponed though, as it was scheduled the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The matchup was re-scheduled for December 7 and Penn State entered its season finale up against a Pittsburgh team that was ranked fifth nationally and considered by many as one of the best teams in Pitt history. Despite a closely contested game, Pitt quarterback Fred Mazurek put together a fourth quarter drive that sent the Panthers ahead, 22-21. On the final opportunity for the Nittany Lions, a missed a field goal ended the game giving Pitt the victory.

Nearly 20 years later, we arrive at Nov. 28, 1981, which is regarded by many as one of the most memorable games between the two teams in the 123-year history of the series.

To set the scene, the No. 11 ranked Nittany Lions entered the regular season finale at 8-2, set to meet the top-ranked, undefeated Panthers on the road at Pitt Stadium. The Panthers boasted an impressive defense that ranked atop the nation's best in rushing defense.

Led by All-American quarterback Dan Marino, Pitt opened the game with a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter to pull ahead 14-0, holding Penn State to minus four yards gained in the opening frame. By the second quarter, it was Nittany Lions quarterback Todd Blackledge and Penn State's Roger Jackson's end zone-interception that sparked one of the most storied comebacks in program history.

Blackledge's touchdown connections with tight end Mike McCloskey and All-American wide receiver Kenny Jackson tied the score at 14-14 by the end of the first half. Capitalizing on Pitt miscues, the Nittany Lions rolled to a 48-14 final decision, capped off by All-American safety Mark Robinson's pick-six off of a Marino pass for a 91-yard touchdown return in the final quarter. Robinson even lost his shoe during the 91-yard return, which stands as the third-longest interception return in Penn State Football program history.

We'd also be remiss if we didn't reach out to Penn State Football historian Lou Prato for a few extra games of note in the series.

Nov. 26, 1908 - While a 12-6 win on the road in Pittsburgh is not all that significant, what is significant is that it marked the first game the Nittany Lions wore numbers on their jerseys in a game. Pitt and Washington & Jefferson were among the first two teams in college football to start wearing numbers and Penn State joined the group for the annual Thanksgiving Day game on the road at Exposition Park, which no longer exists.

Dec. 2, 1950 - This game was originally scheduled to be played at Pitt Saturday, Nov. 25, but when the team arrived on Friday, a snowstorm struck the area, bringing all operations to a halt. With 23 inches of snow on the ground, the Nittany Lions left Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 27, via Army trucks to begin the process of traveling back to Happy Valley.  The Nittany Lions and the Panthers eventually rescheduled for Dec. 2, playing at Forbes Field with Penn State holding on for a 21-20 victory after the Pitt kicker missed his second PAT attempt, having to re-kick after a penalty for 12 men on the field.

Nov. 19, 1983 - Penn State fans were stunned when Pitt fans took to the field to celebrate a 24-21 win on the road in Pittsburgh. They were stunned because just three plays prior to the celebration, with 19 seconds on the clock, Penn State was called for a false start and six seconds slipped away. Those six seconds needed to get back on the clock, but it wasn't until everyone was gathered back following the celebration that the officials informed both head coaches that the scoreboard clock could not be turned backward, but six seconds would still be played. The result ended up being a Nittany Lion field goal that tied the score 24-24, marking Joe Paterno's first tie since the 17-17 final score against Florida State in the 1967 Gator Bowl.

Last Updated September 09, 2016