Sunday, September 29, 2019

Delaware Blue Hens 14 at Pittsburgh Panthers 17 (NCAA Football) - September 28, 2019

The main reason for this weekend trip to Pittsburgh was to see a three-sport, three-venue tripleheader on Saturday, with the Pittsburgh Panthers playing football, the Penguins preseason hockey, and the Riverhounds soccer (the Pirates were also at home in the evening). When I first saw the schedule, the football start time was still TBD and I needed it to be set for 12 noon for a true tripleheader to be possible (that is where you see every play of every game). For some reason, the powers that be scheduled the game at 12:30, which was certainly better than the evening but would prove to be undoing of my great plan.

The Panthers play at Heinz Field, which was my favourite venue on my 2013 NFL Road Trip, so I was quite looking forward to the return visit, especially to compare the experiences between college and pro. I took the T-Line over to Allegheny Station, the last stop on the line and right next to the stadium. As I was doing a review for Stadium Journey, I had to pick up my media credential, so I wandered around the entire stadium before entering, giving me a chance to soak up a bit of atmosphere.

There is an area filled with food trucks and inflatables along the east side, all in Pitt blue and yellow.

The Panthers are considered equal tenants here, and have their name etched on the entrances as well. Less knowledgeable fans might expect Carolina to be the visitors.

Inside the Great Hall, there is a single display dedicated to the Panthers, who actually have nine national titles, three more than the six Super Bowls won by the Steelers. However, eight of those occurred before World War II, with the only once since then in 1976 when Tony Dorsett led the team and won the Heisman Trophy.

Inside the stadium, the two ramps have temporary banners honouring past Pitt stars. Did you know Mike Ditka played here? I did not.

I entered the stadium well before most fans, and was able to capture several shots of the seating bowl and its signature mustard yellow seats. I mean, it is Heinz Field, so mustard yellow is correct, right?

Behind the north end zone is the Ford Fan Zone, which seems to be only used for Steelers games, as there was nothing happening here on this day.

For the afternoon games, the west side is shaded and the place to sit. I'd guess 3/4 of the fans were on this side, which made the stadium look empty when it really wasn't. As well, this is the side closer to the T-Line, which can get very crowded after the game. If you are not in a rush after the game, I would suggest walking to a local bar to wait out the crowd.

The other reason to sit on the west side is the spectacular view of downtown.

The upper level of the north end zone is benches and devoid of fans, so if you like space and want to grab a bit of a tan, this is the place to go.

Below is the view from the north end zone. Note the ramps on either side; many fans watch the game from these spots. The end zone does not change when the Steelers play, a smart design.

Looking back at the north end zone, you can see a large triangular section beneath the smaller scoreboard.

This is where the band sits during the game, and you can stand behind them near the end of the game, as the exit behind here is the closest to the T-Line.

One additional feature I liked was the small murals for each high school in the area. For example, the Ringgold Rams can be found on the upper level near midfield. This is where Joe Montana played his high school football.

There is also a display of all the high school champions from the past year.

Overall, Heinz Field remains one of the best football stadiums in the country. It obviously will not attract as many fans for a Panthers game as when the Steelers are home, so if you want to see it on the cheap, college football is the way to go.

The Game

The Delaware Blue Hens of the FCS were in town and Pitt was favoured by 30 after upsetting #15 UCF the week before. These are known as "trap games" in the parlance, as the better team overlooks its inferior opponent and perhaps doesn't prepare as thoroughly. To make matters worse, Pitt was suffering from three key injuries, namely QB Kenny Pickett and top RBs A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis.

The first quarter was scoreless, but backup Nick Patti began the second stanza with a 30-yard TD pass to V'Lique Carter that gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead. After Delaware missed a field goal, Patti was intercepted by Tim Poindexter on the next possession, giving the Blue Hens the ball at the Pitt 41. On a 3rd and 12, Nolan Henderson hit Gene Coleman II with a 16-yard pass, and after Henderson ran for 10, he and Coleman connected again, this time for a 7-yard score that tied things up. Pitt took possession with 6:28 left in the half and ran a beautiful 17-play 73-yard drive that stalled at the Delaware 2, leading to a field goal that gave them a 10-7 advantage at the break.

The second half saw Pitt start with the ball, but on the second play of the drive, Maurice Ffrench fumbled after a catch and Delaware recovered on the Pitt 21. It took just five plays for Delaware to score as Henderson found Jourdan Townsend for a 5-yard TD to put everyone on Upset Alert! The remainder of the third quarter saw Pitt miss a 57-yard field goal and punt twice, but Delaware struggled to move the ball themselves and it was still 14-10 as the fourth quarter started, with fans getting very nervous. Pitt began from their 10 on their first possession of the final frame, but a couple of long rushes got them out to the 44. A holding penalty brought up 3rd and 17, but Patti found a wide-open Taysir Mack for 48 yards to the Delaware 15. You could hear the sigh of relief from the crowd, but the Panthers were forced into another 3rd down situation, only for Patti to find Mack again, this time in the end zone. The convert made it 17-14 and the upset was in jeopardy. Delaware had two possessions after that but went 3-and-out both times as Pitt did a great job in controlling the clock, holding on to win by 3. A win is a win, but this one certainly caused a few bitten nails among the Panther faithful.

This was not a pretty game, but I enjoyed it as it was much closer than expected. Pitt went 7/18 on 3rd down tries and that was the key stat that allowed them to avoid the upset.


Unfortunately, the game went until 3:47, so I had to leave with 1:18 to go as Pitt was kneeling. This allowed me to beat the rush and catch the first train out of the station. I missed the final two kneeldowns, thus ruining the true tripleheader, but it didn't matter in the end, as you will see in the next post.



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