PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Pitt snapped a four-game losing streak to Rutgers with a 24-17 victory on Friday night.
“A lot of guys had Rutgers circled on their schedule from the beginning of the year,” senior guard John Malecki said. “It was a big game for us and we pulled through.”
In front of a national television audience and the second-largest crowd in the history of Rutgers Stadium, freshman tailback Dion Lewis carried 31 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and the Pitt defense caused a late turnover to end Rutgers’ final chance.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “We hadn’t beaten them and that was a little shot in the arm to get their motors running.”
Lewis scored on runs of 2 and 58 yards, giving him 10 touchdowns on the season.
Lewis, who went to high school at Blair Academy in New Jersey but was never offered by Rutgers, finished with career-highs in yards and carries.
“This guy is special,” Wannstedt said. “He is something.”
Bill Stull completed 16 of 24 pass attempts for 153 yards and one touchdown. As a team, Pitt rushed for 223 yards on 46 carries against the nation’s No. 6-ranked defense.
The Panthers improved to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big East for only the third time since 1993. They hold a half-game lead in the conference heading into next weekend’s game with USF (5-1, 1-1) at Heinz Field.
It was the first win for the Pitt seniors over Rutgers.
“You could see in their eyes that they really wanted this game,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ 58-yard touchdown run gave Pitt a 24-10 lead with 5:19 to play in the third quarter. But Rutgers (4-2, 0-2), which beat the Panthers, 54-34 last season, fought back behind a blocked punt, a Bill Stull fumble and, finally, a missed 30-yard field goal by Dan Hutchins with 2:31 to play.
Down 24-17, Rutgers had a chance to tie the score late in the game, but Jovani Chappel stripped Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu after a catch and Antwuan Reed recovered at the Rutgers 47 with 1:07 to play.
“The mindset was that we had to stop them and make plays,” middle linebacker Adam Gunn said.
Leading 17-10 at halftime, Pitt went ahead 24-10 with 5:19 to play in the third quarter on Lewis’ 58-yard touchdown run. Rutgers cut the lead to 24-17 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from freshman Tom Savage to Tim Brown with 9:37 to play in the game.
“I thought they (Pittsburgh) did a very good job,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said.
Pitt, which allowed five touchdown passes in the first half of last year’s loss to Rutgers, gave a better early account this time. The Panthers held Rutgers to 31 rushing yards on 11 carries and led 17-10 at halftime.