Cavaliers Repeat As Champs
Virginia shuts down Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh, 23-16
Dec 27, 2003
By JENNA FRYER, AP Sports Writer
(reprinted with permission)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Matt Schaub capped his career as Virginia's most prolific quarterback by taking a knee on his second consecutive Continental Tire Bowl victory.
Larry Fitzgerald could only watch from the Pittsburgh sidelines, hands on his hips in yet another disappointing loss in what might have been the final game for one of the greatest players in Panthers history.
Virginia made it 2-for-2 in the 2-year-old Tire Bowl by using solid defense to snap Fitzgerald's record touchdown streak at 18 games in a 23-16 victory on Saturday.
"We have worked very hard to become a significant defensive team and we knew stopping Larry Fitzgerald was going to be important," Cavaliers coach Al Groh said. "He can do in one or two plays what a 12-play drive usually does, so we put an emphasis on him."
The Cavaliers (8-5) did it by limiting the looks in Fitzgerald's direction with a steady pass-rush that led to five sacks and only six throws to Fitzgerald.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up, who could petition the NFL for early entry into the draft, was held to five catches for 77 yards and failed to score a touchdown for Pittsburgh (8-5) for the first time since Oct 12, 2002, against Notre Dame. His 18 consecutive games with a touchdown is an NCAA record.
"I don't play for records," he said. "The record was fun and I thank my teammates for helping me get it. Records are meant to be broken."
Then he said he still wasn't sure what his future holds, just that he plans to be enrolled in classes at Pitt next month.
So what could have been Fitzgerald's swan song instead became Schaub's big day. He threw for a 244 yards and a touchdown - the 56th of his career, a Virginia record - to earn the MVP award in the second-year bowl.
The Cavs beat West Virginia here last season, and marked the sweep by running as a team to the far end zone and celebrating with the Virginia-dominated crowd.
Schaub, whose touchdown was a 52-yard strike to Heath Miller, wasted little time on sentimentality.
"It's over and done with, I sort of established that earlier this month," Schaub said. "It is a rite of passage seniors go through. So I knew it would come and it is just a great way to go out - with a win."
But his coach felt otherwise, taking time to credit Schaub for leading the Cavs to consecutive bowl victories for just the second time in school history.
"He's made an indelible mark and I think he joins an elite group of Virginia football players," Groh said. "I can't imagine anybody in the country who has carried their team more than he has."
But the game was also won with defense.
Virginia used a goal-line stand on Pitt's first drive of the game. The Panthers were stopped on four straight plays from the 1 and Fitzgerald was not on the field for any of them. The Cavaliers also sacked Rod Rutherford on fourth-and-10 near the end of the first half, and forced him into a costly fumble that basically sealed the game.
Connor Hughes kicked a 39-yard field - his third of the game - to give Virginia a 23-16 lead with 2:28 to play. But with Fitzgerald on the field, it seemed almost a given the Panthers would be able to move down field.
They got 45 yards from TuTu Ferguson on the ensuing kickoff, but Rutherford was sacked by Brennan Schmidt on the first play and Kai Parham recovered on the Pitt 37.
The Cavaliers then put the game away with a 17-yard run by Wali Lundy that moved them to the 17 and allowed them to run out the clock.
"Our goal was to keep points down," Groh said. "That is the purpose of defense and in the future, we'll be a defensive team."
Lundy, who scored four touchdowns in this bowl last year, finished with 90 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run. Charlotte native Alvin Pearman, who missed the game last year with an injury, marked his homecoming with 104 yards rushing and six catches for 32 yards.
Brandon Miree ran for 110 yards for Pitt and added four catches for 43 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown. The scoring pass from Rutherford was his 37th of the season, tying the school record Dan Marino set in 1981.
Rutherford finished with 246 yards passing, two touchdowns, an interception and a fumble.
His mistakes weren't the only ones for Pitt, though. The Panthers also missed a conversion and a field goal, critical errors for a team extremely disappointed at even being in the second-tier bowl.
Pitt had hoped to be in the Orange Bowl this season, but a loss to Miami in the regular-season finale knocked them out of Bowl Championship Series contention.
Now things can take another bad turn if Fitzgerald decides to petition the NFL for early entry into the draft. The league prevents players from entering the draft just two years out of high school, but the sophomore could ask the NFL to make an exception for him.