Sometimes a game can be broken down into all of the individual facets and angles and twists and turns that lead to the final outcome, and sometimes it's best to just look at the overall result.
In the case of Pitt's 24-17 over Cincinnati at Heinz Field on Saturday, it's quite likely that any form of evaluation would lead to the same conclusion. In the words of head coach Dave Wannstedt:
"It was a good team win."
With uncharacteristic brevity, Wannstedt summed up the Panthers' third win of the season, a game that featured a wide variety of players contributing key plays to push on toward victory.
On defense, there was Tommie Duhart and Eric Thatcher, who forced and recovered, respectively, the Panthers' first turnover in four games, a fourth-quarter fumble that led to a field goal. And there was Shane Murray and Kennard Cox, who teamed up on Cincinnati's next possession to create yet another fumble, this time leading to Pitt's go-ahead touchdown drive. And then there was Aaron Berry, who had been relatively impact-less all season before recording an interception on Cincinnati's third possession of the fourth quarter, sealing the deal on a Pitt win.
On special teams, there was placekicker Conor Lee, who connected on field goals of 41, 37, and 25 yards. And there was kickoff man Dave Brytus, who responded to a kickoff placement at the 15-yard line, which came as a result of a penalty on Pitt's two-point conversion. Even though he was pushed back to the 15, Brytus came through with his longest kick of the season, a boot that officially went for 73 yards and gave the Bearcats a very long field to cover if they hoped to tie the game at 24.
On offense, some of the biggest contributions came from a variety of places: wide receiver T.J. Porter caught a game-high 7 passes for 85 yards; tight end Darrell Strong made a noteworthy catch on a touchdown play; Oderick Turner ran a crisp route to get open on a two-point conversion; LeSean McCoy had another 100-yard game, rushing for 137 on 25 carries; and LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 100 yards on 13 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown.
"I'm going to put it on the players: they all made plays," Wannstedt said. "I'm going to put it on the players and say they did a great job and they were determined to do whatever they could do for 60 minutes to try to win this game. Give them credit.
"They did everything they had to do to win this football game."
Stephens-Howling, in particular, might have best epitomized the "team" concept that helped Pitt (3-4) to victory over Cincinnati. A two-year starter, the junior running back has watched as McCoy, the sensational freshman, has effectively taken over the starting tailback role.
"We all know about [McCoy] and you have to give our offensive line credit, but I'll tell you, the guy that really needs to be recognized is LaRod," Wannstedt said after the game. "You put yourself in that place, you be the starter around here for two years, you come in and have a freshman take your job, and you show up when the chips are down and you play your heart out like that kid did today. He's a special guy. He really stepped up today."
Rather than take the demotion personally and lose his drive, Stephens-Howling continued working hard and stuck with the belief that he is an effective running back.
"I'm not going to lie: it's been rough," Stephens-Howling said. "But Coach has talked about knowing yourself and what you really have; I know myself that I'm a good running back and I can contribute in many ways on this team."
On Sunday, Stephens-Howling contributed with a slew of key plays, most notably on Pitt's game-winning drive when McCoy limped off and the Panthers needed a score to get the win. On that drive, Stephens-Howling rushed 6 times for 42 yards and caught a key 10-yard pass that turned a first-and-15 into a much more manageable second-and-5. Naturally, Stephens-Howling scored the touchdown on that drive, as well.
McCoy, a consummate teammate, took just as much pleasure in Stephens-Howling's success as he would take in his own.
""I think we came out and showed everybody what we can do," McCoy said. "This is what it's all about: running the ball hard, smash-mouth football, linemen getting down and dirty blocking hard."
That effectiveness led to a win that, by any measure, the Panthers absolutely had to have.
"When you lose four games in a row, you start to get down on yourself," senior offensive tackle Mike McGlynn said. "But to come back and beat the No. 23 team in the nation and keep that River City Rivalry trophy in our house feels great. It's a win, and we really needed it."
In the end, the team needed the win, and the team got it.
Chris Peak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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