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One Shining Moment

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The play is part of a video highlight that loops continuously on televisions at the on-campus football complex, where a football retrieved from the parking lot is encased in glass.

This is at the University of Connecticut, which has chosen to preserve a moment that remains one of the all-time high points of its football program – and served as the definitive lowlight of Pitt’s 2006 season.

Maybe Pitt should play the same loop for motivation.

To refresh your memory: Huskies quarterback D.J. Hernandez evaded the blitz of Pitt linebacker Clint Session and outraced defensive end Joe Clermond to the end zone for a two-point conversion that gave UConn a 46-45 double-overtime victory over the Panthers last November.

Hernandez celebrated by heaving the football over the bleachers of Rentschler Field in East Hartford. It landed in the parking lot, where a fan found it and returned the ball.

“That was a great game,” Hernandez said. “It was a great win for the program.”

Or, depending on your point of view, a devastating loss for the Panthers. After a 6-1 start, Pitt lost its final five games and was not invited to a postseason bowl. The UConn loss was the most demoralizing, as the Panthers blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead.

“I really didn’t even think about it as a spoiler, to keep them from a bowl game,” Hernandez said. “I just thought it was a great win for our program.”

One in which Hernandez played the game of his life. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 164 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for a career-high 130 yards on 17 carries. Hernandez directed an 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive capped by a pass to tight end Dan Murray with three seconds remaining to send it into overtime.

“It was a great day for myself,” Hernandez said. “It was probably the best game I’ve played in my whole life. My whole family was there watching, my mother and my brother. It was at home. You wouldn’t want it any other place.”

What has to hurt most for the Panthers is knowing that Hernandez never came close, before or after, to duplicating that performance. In fact, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior has since been switched to receiver, where the Huskies believe he is best suited.

“It’s been going great,” Hernandez said. “It feels like I’m at home. I’m so excited to start this season. It feels like the right position for me, like it’s where I really belong. I think I’ve made great strides. I think I’ll make a lot of plays at receiver this year.”

UConn, by the way, plays Pitt Sept. 22 at Heinz Field.

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