12:00 PM ET, October 25, 2003
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Larry Fitzgerald tied an NCAA record by making two more touchdown catches and Rod Rutherford-led Pittsburgh finally settled down its trouble-prone defense to beat Syracuse 34-14 Saturday.
Rutherford shook off Pitt's terrible start and a running game that was nonexistent in the first half to complete 21 of 32 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns, including a 19-yarder to Kris Wilson early in the second quarter.
Fitzgerald, enjoying the most productive season by a receiver in Pitt's long football history, caught eight passes for 149 yards and tied an NCAA record by making a touchdown catch for the 13th consecutive game. Charles Rogers of Michigan State set the record last season.
Fitzgerald tied the record with a 3-yard catch on a fade route on Pitt's second possession, making it 7-7, then put the Panthers (5-2, 2-0 in Big East) up 28-14 with a 7-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter.
The sophomore receiver has 15 scoring catches in seven games, breaking the Big East single season record of 13 by Pitt's Terry Murphy in 1997. Fitzgerald has caught 24 touchdown passes during his 13-game streak, and is over the 1,000-yard mark for a second straight season with 53 receptions for 1,018 yards.
Fitzgerald needs one more touchdown catch to tie Julius Dawkins' single-season school record of 16, set as Dan Marino threw for 37 touchdowns in 1981.
Rutherford is enjoying perhaps the best season by a Pitt quarterback since that Marino season, even though unexpected losses to Toledo and Notre Dame knocked the Panthers out of the Top 25. Rutherford has 24 touchdown passes and only four interceptions and has thrown for 250 or more yards in all but one game.
But as good as Fitzgerald and Rutherford were, Pittsburgh didn't take control until a defense that had allowed an average of 499 yards in the last four games became dominating with Syracuse (4-3, 1-2) leading 14-7. Pitt's defense began the game ranked 86th among the 117 Division I-A teams.
Pittsburgh couldn't have started much worse, losing 31 yards on its first two plays before star punter Andy Lee fumbled a snap that Steve Gregory returned 7 yards for a touchdown just 2:46 into the game.
But a Pitt defense that gave up 25 second-half points to Rutgers the week before suddenly found itself, repeatedly pressuring Anderson into hurrying his throws. Anderson was intercepted twice after throwing 178 consecutive passes without an interception and finished 7-of-18 for only 49 yards.
Despite Reyes' 97 yards rushing, Syracuse's 11 possessions after the long scoring drive ended with six punts, an interception, a fumble that Josh Lay returned 20 yards for the touchdown that put Pitt up 21-14 late in the second quarter, two failed fourth-down conversions and the clock running out at the end of the first half.
Pitt's top rusher, Jawan Walker, had only 47 yards, but the Panthers ran for 86 yards in the second half after losing 42 yards rushing in the first half.
Pitt beat Syracuse for the second straight season after losing 11 in a row to the Orangemen.