|Photo by Jason Schott.
Northwestern beat Pittsburgh 31-24 in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Pittsburgh got the scoring started early with a 46-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt on the opening drive of the game. Pitt came close to getting another score later in the first quarter, but Northwestern had a goal line stand and halted the Panthers on a 4th-and-1.
The second quarter belonged to Northwestern running back Justin Jackson. He had an 8-yard run for a touchdown 29 seconds into the frame that capped a 10-play, 99-yard drive, and pulled off an acrobatic move for another touchdown at the 3:08 mark to make it 14-3 Northwestern.
Pittsburgh responded on the first play of the ensuing drive when Nathan Peterman found Jester Weah for a 69-yard touchdown pass on the first play of their drive to cut Northwestern's lead to 14-10 at halftime.
Pitt got the ball to start the second half, and Peterman got a five-yard touchdown run to cap a four-play, 68-yard touchdown run that took just 1:47 to take a 17-14 lead.
Northwestern responded on the ensuing drive, as Jackson got his third touchdown run of the day from 40 yards out to give them a 2-17 lead. This capped a 14-play, 89-yard drive that lasted five minutes and 18 seconds.
Late in the third quarter, Chawntez Moss blocked a punt for Pitt giving them the ball at the Northwestern 22-yard line with 1:35 left in the third quarter.
Six plays later, and culminating in the early part of the fourth, Ben DiNucci entered at quarterback for Pitt, and he found George Aston from six yards for a touchdown to make it 24-21.
Northwestern responded with another long drive, 14 plays and 76 yards over five minutes, that resulted in a touchdown. Clayton Thorson found Garrett Dickerson with a 21-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 with 8:23 left in the fourth to give them the lead back at 28-24.
Quadree Henderson fumbled on the first play of Pitt's ensuing possession, and Northwestern took advantage, as they got a field goal to make it 31-24.
Northwestern's defense came up huge late with two interceptions to seal the victory. Jared McGee picked off DiNucci at the three-yard line on 4th-and-10 with 2:49 left, and Kyle Queiro picked one off at the Pitt 34-yard line with 1:22 left to seal the win.
Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said of the win, "Thanks, everybody, for being here. First of all, to the Steinbrenner family, to the New York Yankees, to everybody involved in the organization, this trip was absolutely first class. We're very, very thankful to Randy, his staff, to Mark, John Mosley who was with us the whole time, Emily and all the staff that are part of the day-to-day operations that make this bowl week here in New York City absolutely phenomenal. We can't thank them enough. We hope we made them proud in the way we went out and competed today.
"Been to a lot of bowl games. There's something special about being in New York City for the holidays. This was first class in every manner and every fashion. We just want to thank them for an unbelievable week.
"Looking to the game, first of all, what a great season by the Pitt Panthers. Watching them on tape, we knew we were going to have our hands full in all three phases today. Our guys I thought prepared really well. We made some tweaks to our preparation from last year's bowl experience.
"Between the last game last year and our bowl experience, I think we lost our edge. I think we hardened our edge during this bowl prep. I think, number one, our guys bought into the game plan. They bought into the way we were going to practice and prepare. It was not easy, either in Evanston or when we came down here. The guys embraced that. We got better and we really improved.
"Then I think when we got to the game today, we had some guys make some big plays. Obviously Justin's day will go down in Northwestern's football history as one of the best performances ever by a runningback. He'll be the first to give credit to the offensive line and the wide receivers for the great job they did blocking. But I think he made quite a few guys miss out there on the field, too. It was a spectacular day.
"Defensively, Kyle's (Queiro) huge pick there at the end, I think we had a couple other huge interceptions, two in the scoring zone, very opportunistic there. Then obviously the fall recovery that Joe had was big. Turnovers made the difference, which they typically do in bowl season, the opener.
"Our hopes and prayers are that all the players that got banged up today get healthy and heal up quickly. We're honored to be the New Era Pinstripe Bowl champions and send our seniors out the right way. A big shout out to Danny Kanell and the ESPN crew that told us we'd just be happy to be here and that our motivation would be low, and they had I think 40 out of 40 confidence points. That was a video I showed the guys when we showed up here in New York. I think it put things in perspective for where we're at. Our video crew put that together. That's the last thing we saw video-wise today.
"I greatly appreciate the external motivation. Cannot thank that group of three men enough. I'm proud to blow out their bowl season predictions, because the guys to my right, they're the ones that did it along with our staff.
"An honor to be here and an honor to be champions."
Yankees Connections to Northwestern:
This game had some sentimentality to the Yankees, as George Steinbrenner was a football coach at Northwestern in the 1950s and current Manager Joe Girardi is an alumnus of the school.
Girardi was at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and said of his love of Northwestern and football in a press conference before the game, "Next to baseball my true passion in sports is college football. i tell my wife not to bother me during College Gameday. Saturday from 9 to 12, don't bother me, I'm gonna sit and watch it.
"I think about these two great universities and what they stand for. I remember as a kid watching the great Tony Dorsett and Pittsburgh. i loved to watch them play. I think if you have players that represent a university like a James Conner (Pittsburgh running back), how can you not be proud to be a Pittsburgh alum? What that kid has overcome, the year that he has come back and put together. I think of our university, my wife Kim and I went there, we graduated in '86 and '87, we are so proud of what it stands for, the student-athlete, what (football head coach) Pat Fitzgerald and the whole athletic department under Jim Phillips has done. We're so proud of them, and every time I get a chance to watch them on TV, I watch them on TV, and Pat, before every game, I text him good luck. I'm just proud of what they stand for."
Fitzgerald said of Girardi after winning the Pinstripe Bowl, "Coach Joe is amazing. First of all, all of you that cover the Yankees know who he is. He's a genuine person. He's a terrific man, a great father, a great leader and molder of young men, and a champion. He's been incredibly gracious to myself and my family and to our Northwestern football family. He's been an honorary captain for us. He's been at multiple games of ours.
"He's been a great sounding board for me. There's been a lot of times I've asked him questions about leadership, how he handles things. I think he's got a little bit brighter spotlight on him from that standpoint than I do. To see the grace and humility he demonstrates on a daily basis is really inspiring as another leader.
"To have that type of support, he's a family member. I think when you have a small private school, 8,000 students, I think everybody that's ever put on the purple and white is really smiling large at the effort level, what these young men did today."