Pittsburgh 28

(7-2, 4-0 ACC)

(3) Virginia Tech 21

(8-1, 3-1 ACC)

Coverage: ESPN2

7:30 PM ET, November 2, 2002

Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA

1 2 3 4 T
PITT 7 0 14 728
#3VT 14 0 7 021

Hokies fall from unbeaten ranks

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- Pittsburgh did it again to Virginia Tech, taking the team they want to emulate out of championship contention.

Claude Harriott

Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall loses the ball as Pittsburgh's Claude Harriott tackles him.

Brandon Miree ran 53 yards for a touchdown with 4:11 remaining Saturday night, completing Pittsburgh's comeback from a two-touchdown third-quarter deficit and lifting the Panthers past No. 3 Virginia Tech 28-21.

"You need to pinch me right now,'' Miree said. "I'm still in awe of everything. Virginia Tech is a great program. I've been watching them for years, and like coach said, we do idolize this team and this program.''

With the victory, the Panthers (7-2, 4-0 Big East) moved ahead of the Hokies in the conference race. They're 4-0 in the league for the first time since it was formed in 1991, and maybe there are bigger things in store for the rest of the season.

The Panthers play Temple next weekend, then have 10 days to prepare for a showdown against No. 1 Miami for the Big East lead on Nov. 21.

"We're working our way up the ladder,'' Pitt coach Walt Harris said. "To win here with this crowd, this atmosphere, to be down 14-0 ... to still come back and win the game, it's almost more than I can fathom.''

The victory was the Panthers' first against a top-five team since they beat No. 4 Notre Dame in 1987, and it was as impressive as last year's game when they won 38-7, handing the Hokies their worst loss in five years.

Pitt got three touchdown passes from Rod Rutherford to freshman sensation Larry Fitzgerald, and 275 yards rushing against the nation's best defense against the run (40.75 yards), including Miree's big run.

On the play, a simple off-tackle run, he burst through the line, slipped a tackle and ran it in virtually untouched.

Hokies cornerback DeAngelo was locked in on Fitzgerald in man coverage, and "by the time I turned around, he was off to the races.''

Miree finished with 161 yards on 23 carries.

The Hokies (8-1, 3-1) were done in by their offense, which scored its touchdowns on first-half drives of 3 and 21 yards set up by special teams plays, and on Lee Suggs' 59-yard touchdown run just after halftime.

The Panthers outgained Virginia Tech 483-275, and the Hokies committed three turnovers, giving them 10 in three games. Quarterback Bryan Randall had an interception and a fumble.

"We never really got the momentum today on offense, but you've got to give the credit to their defense. They did exactly what we thought they were going to do. It was a matter of executing, and we didn't,'' Randall said.

With 37 seconds left and one last chance to tie, Randall threw incomplete on first down, was sacked and fumbled out of bounds at his own 6 on second down and threw a fluttering duck that the Hokies' Ernest Wilford caught at the 39. A late-hit penalty against Pitt put the Hokies at the Pitt 46, but a final pass for Wilford was incomplete as time ran out.

Before Miree's capper, the Panthers offense was Rutherford, who threw for 208 yards and ran for 56 more, and the 6-foot-3 Fitzgerald. Trailing 21-7, Rutherford led the Panthers on two quick drives to tie it, both times hitting Fitzgerald in the left corner for the points.

The first drive covered 86 yards in eight plays and was kept alive by a 15-yard personal foul against Hokies cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, who got caught shoving a Pitt player to the ground after an incomplete pass on third-and-9 from the Pitt 46. Rutherford hit Kris Wilson for 45 yards on the next play, then threw a fade to Fitzgerald, who beat Whitaker in the end zone.

After a Hokies punt, Miree ran for 10 yards, Tim Murphy burst 52 yards up the middle on his first carry of the season and Fitzgerald made a dazzling over-the-shoulder touchdown catch, again in the left corner.

"They have a lot of confidence in their cornerbacks. As a receiver, that's what you look for,'' said Fitzgerald, who had five catches for 105 yards. "If you can't beat man coverage, you can't play at this level.''

The Hokies' vaunted ground game, nicknamed "The Untouchables,'' struggled to break anything against the Panthers' stacked front in the first half, which ended with Tech having 35 yards on 22 carries.

Suggs more than doubled the rushing total on the third play of the second half, going 59 yards around the left end for a touchdown. But that was about the only thing the Hokies could do on offense.