Sunday, December 6, 2009

AN AWFUL WEEK FOR PANTHERS FOOTBALL; UNIVERSITY SUFFERS RARE DOUBLE LOSS

PROUD PLAYER, COACH, ALUM, "FOGE" FAZIO SUCCUMBS TO LEUKEMIA AT 71;

PANTHERS SUFFER ONE OF MOST- DISAPPOINTING LOSSES IN SCHOOL HISTORY



ABOVE: Pitt's Deion Lewis scores one of his three touchdowns during his record-setting performance. Lewis carried the ball an unheard-of 47 times.


Brother, what a tough week to be a Pitt football fan. First, on Wednesday came word that former player, assistant, head coach, NFL coordinator and finally, Pitt broadcaster, Serafino "Foge" Fazio had died after a long battle with leukemia. Fazio, who recruited Dave Wannstedt and Dan Marino among many others was one of those magnetic personalities that everyone loved. He was considered one of the university's finest ambassadors. On a purely personal note, I got to meet Foge several times while playing in his charity golf tournament that he co-chaired with Myron Cope at Montour Country Club. Everything you've ever heard about his personality was certainly true, it was magnetic. When combined with the mercurial Myron Cope, well, it was just magical.


Fortunately for him, and probably because he had lived such a good life,  God decided to spare Foge Fazio from enduring the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching 45-44 loss yesterday that Pitt (9-3, 5-2) suffered at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats. The University has suffered bigger losses (such as last year's NCAA basketball defeat in the Elite 8) but certainly few in its' long and glorious past that were as disappointing as this one.

Pitt's game plan was working to perfection in the first half. They dominated the time of possession with Deion Lewis carrying the ball on play after play. At one point, with just 1:26 left until halftime, Pitt was up by an amzing score of 31-10. The Panthers had just blocked a punt and scored. They had all the momentum in the world and there was consternation on the Cincinnati sideline. All was well, or so one would mistakenly think...

On the ensuing kickoff, the Bearcat's Mardy Gilyard, along with Pitt's Lewis another amazing talent on display in this game, took the ball 99 yards for an immediate resuscitation for a fast-fading Cincinnati team. There's no doubt now that the South Side practice facility has to be to blame as both Pitt and the Steelers may have the two worst special teams in the country.

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"Mardy Gilliard was absolutely brilliant. The kickoff return was the spark that got us back in the game -- Cincinnati Coach Brian Kelly

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In this amazing game, Gilyard would have 5 catches for 118 yards (23.6 per catch) plus 256 yards of 7 kickoff returns (36.5 per return). Every time Gilyard touched the ball, it turned into a back-breaker for the Panthers.


ABOVE: Foge Fazio, he of the ever-present smile, during Pitt Stadium days. Fazio was an "All-East" center, team MVP in 1959. He coached linebackers 69-72, 77-79, was defensive coordinator 79-81 and Head Coach 82-85 succeeding Jackie Sherrill. He was part of seven bowl teams including five in the top 10.  

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Pitt's Lewis was only having one of the greatest games in the history of Pitt football. With none less that Tony Dorsett on the sidelines to cheer him on, Lewis carried the ball an almost unholy 47 times, racking up 194 yards (4.12 per carry) and three touchdowns and smashing Ironhead Heyward's 1987 record of 42 carries. Lewis, with 1640 yards, now needs just 46 more to break Dorsett's all-time freshman rushing record .

But in games such as this one where the memories of unreal performances will last for decades and decades, it came down to some possible questionable clock management at the end that did in the Panthers. With the score tied and under two minutes, the Panthers took what the Bearcats defense gave them, scoring on a first down run by Lewis, putting them up 44-38. However, the extra point snap was mishandled by now-distraught holder, Andrew Junocko, and the Bearcats with their dangerous offense now had the ball with two timeouts and a minute and a half to play. Everone who was wearing blue and gold at Heinz Field had this sinking feeling in the "Pitt" of their stomach. 

Cincinnati (12-0, 7-0) would not disappoint, their high-powered offense now in high gear. In just a minute's time, Tony Pike would hit Armon Binns in the end zone with 33 seconds left. The all-important extra point sailed through without incident giving them a lead that they would not relinquish.

Had Pitt burned time off the clock, forcing Cincinnati to use their timeouts, the outcome of this game could have potentially been different. The Panthers would have settled for a field goal, being up 41-38, but most importantly, there would have have been under a minute and no timeouts left for the Bearcats.

Could Cincinnati have gone on to kick a field goal? Certainly, and they could have missed it too. However, time was Cincinnati's biggest enemy, not the touchdown that Pitt scored. The decision to not take time off the clock will be one that will haunt the Pitt program for many years. For the players, who were justifiably crushed afterwards, it will take a long time to recover from this one. However, for the nation's football fans, they got to see one of the most entertaining games ever played and certainly one that will be discussed and vividly remembered for years and years to come. Too bad that those memories, for Pitt fans, will always be so bitter.

Foge Fazio was never a bitter man, even after losing football jobs on several different occasions. But this game could have changed that. A loss this bad could turn any loyal fan bitter.
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"I don't know anyone who embodied the Pitt spirit better than Foge Fazio     --Athletic Director, Steve Pederson

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