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December 5, 2010

Pitt ends regular season on high note

CINCINNATI - Pitt's 28-10 win over Cincinnati on Saturday won't change anything that came before it.

Beating the Bearcats won't change history to help Pitt capitalize on missed opportunities at Utah in the season opener or at Notre Dame four weeks later. The win on Saturday won't give the Panthers another chance to show up at Connecticut in a key Big East matchup. And topping Cincinnati by 18 points isn't going to compel Pitt to answer the bell in the biggest game of the season, a game against a fierce rival at home with a BCS bid on the line.

None of that will change as a result of Pitt's win over a four-win Cincinnati team on Saturday. But after a season full of mistakes, underachieving, and general disappointment, it was exactly what the Panthers needed.

"It would have been real easy for us to come here and just give up," senior safety Dom DeCicco said after the game. "The season didn't go our way, and we felt like failures because we didn't get what we wanted done. But the way Coach Wannstedt is and the way we are, there's no give-up in us."

Instead of bringing a lackluster attitude to the Cincinnati game despite having virtually no chance of claiming the Big East's BCS bid, Pitt's players took to the snow-covered field at Nippert Stadium looking to end a disappointing season on a high note. And that was exactly what happened.

The Panthers scored touchdowns on their second, third, and fourth drives of the game. Sophomore running back Dion Lewis rushed for 261 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, behind an offensive line that asserted itself for seemingly the first time all season. And on defense, Pitt forced four turnovers - three interceptions and a fumble - while holding Cincinnati's potent offense well below its season averages in total offense, passing offense, and scoring offense.

"We had fun out there today," senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard said after the game. "Everybody was just having fun. It was my first time playing in snow that was sticking to the ground, and I felt like a little kid, just out there having fun with my friends."

Of course, Pitt didn't play a perfect game. Cincinnati did manufacture a pretty efficient seven-play/60-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and Pitt's offense scored just two touchdowns in five trips to the red zone. Two of those red-zone opportunities were killed by turnovers.

Nevertheless, the Panthers were enjoying themselves.

"The spirit around the field, everybody was excited," Sheard said. "Nobody was getting mad after each other. Even after a false start or the interception, our defense was just pumped to get another chance to go out on the field. I was excited the whole game. It was just a fun atmosphere."

So, while Saturday's win can't change what transpired in the previous three months and shouldn't soften the disappointment Pitt's players experienced this season, solidly handling Cincinnati for 60 minutes does give the Panthers something positive to carry with them into the bowl game and offseason.

"That bitter taste won't come out of our mouths; we lost those games and we lost them in a way that we felt we gave it away," said quarterback Tino Sunseri, who completed 14-of-23 for 158 yards and one interception against Cincinnati. "With this win, we're satisfied for this week. But we're always hungry. This is a satisfying win for now but we're always looking into the future."







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