Play of the Game: ‘Scoop and score’ ices Steelers victory
CLEVELAND — This was a homecoming of sorts for Steelers safety Russell Stuvaints, so it’s only fitting that he “took one to the house.”
That was the phrase Stuvaints used to describe his first NFL touchdown, a 24-yard fumble return against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
It put the Steelers ahead 24-3 with 9:14 left and all but clinched their seventh consecutive victory.
Aaron Smith sacked Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia on the play, jarring the ball loose. It bounced right into Stuvaints’ hands along the sideline, triggering his old running-back instincts. He switched the ball from his right hand to his left and sprinted into the end zone untouched.
Stuvaints hadn’t crossed a goal line since he was a star tailback at McKeesport High School.
He was originally tried out as a tailback at nearby Youngstown State, a Division I-AA school, but then-coach Jim Tressel moved him to linebacker.
“It’s always nice when the ball’s in your hands,” Stuvaints said. “It was the perfect scoop and score.”
And it was another near-perfect day for Dick LeBeau’s swarming Steelers defense, which forced four turnovers and sacked Garcia four times.
Garcia completed just 7 of 16 passes for 110 yards and a passer rating of 41.1. He was pulled from the game in favor of Kelly Holcomb after Stuvaints’ touchdown, as the Steelers cruised to a 24-10 victory.
“We got to him,” Steelers linebacker James Farrior said of Garcia.
The Steelers are only seven sacks short of equaling their 2003 season total of 35. They are only three takeaways short of their 2003 total of 25.
This, despite a spate of injures that has caused four starters to miss time.
“There have been a lot of playmakers on our football team,” coach Bill Cowher said. “And it seems like someone new steps up every week.”
This week, that crew included Stuvaints, who can scarcely believe his good fortune this season.
He started out the year on the New England Patriots’ practice squad, after the Steelers released him Sept. 5.
But after safety Ainsley Battles was hurt in the season-opener against Oakland, the Steelers claimed Stuvaints off New England’s practice squad.
Since then, Stuvaints has seen action on special teams and in the Steelers’ pass-defense packages. He dropped an interception that probably would have gone for a score against Dallas, but didn’t waste his opportunity yesterday.
About a dozen of Stuvaints’ friends and relatives were in the stadium, including his old college roommate.
Back in McKeesport, Stuvaints’ mother, Ramona Wilkes, was hosting a Steelers party — the same kind that Stuvaints enjoyed when he was growing up. His favorite player was safety Darren Perry, now the team’s secondary coach.
“I’m a die-hard Steeler fan,” Stuvaints said. “This is unbelievable, man. It’s a dream come true. I don’t even think my mom could have dreamed anything more than this. This is just as much her dream as mine. It’s just awesome to be playing for my hometown team.”
What happened at mom’s house when Stuvaints picked up the fumble?
“They probably went crazy,” he said. “They were probably jumping up and down.”
Just like all of Pittsburgh.