The moment Scott Mayle caught the pass, Malcolm Postell arrived to deliver a vicious blow that knocked the Ohio receiver off his feet.
It was a spine-tingling hit that reverberated throughout Heinz Field, and one that could have been the defining moment of the game for the Pitt linebacker.
If not for his next play.
On third-and-5 at the Ohio 39, Postell read Ryan Hawk’s eyes, stepped in front of his pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 14-point third-quarter lead in their 24-3 win over Ohio on Saturday night.
“I was just trying to make a play,” said Postell, who tied for a team-high five tackles — four solo. “The next play, I was going to do something. If I have the opportunity, I try to make a play on every down.”
The interception was only one highlight for the 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior from Keyport, N.J., whose improved play earned him the distinction of being selected by Pitt coaches to follow Walt Harris out of the tunnel at the start.
“It was a great feeling, especially when he told us Friday in practice,” Postell said. “I saw all those guys do that last year, and I was very thankful I could be out there with the head coach.”
A former running back, who switched to linebacker, Postell has had to battle for the starting “Will” position with junior J.J. Horne. While Postell has shown glimpses of his potential, he hadn’t lived up to his coaches’ expectations.
“Malcolm has been issued a bunch of challenges by our coaches to improve his play,” Harris said. “He’s a good football player. He’s got a lot of ability. You saw his speed when he caught that pass. I believe he responded. That’s why he followed me out.”
Postell became the first Pitt player to return an interception for a touchdown since Shawntae Spencer had a 68-yarder in a 38-7 victory over Virginia Tech on Nov. 3, 2001.
It was not the first big pick of Postell’s career, although it was his first returned for a touchdown and his first touchdown since high school.
Postell has five career interceptions: He had two against Rutgers as a redshirt sophomore, one against Texas A&M and another that he returned 54 yards to set up Pitt’s second touchdown against Toledo last season.
It also helped erase the memory of the interception he didn’t make — against Notre Dame last season.
“It felt great,” Postell said. “I had a lot of opportunities last year, but I missed them. I’m not trying to let them by this year.”
This time, Postell added some flair to the play. He evaded one Ohio player who dived at his ankles by high-stepping across the goal line. He skidded across the back of the end zone, then crossed his arms and bobbed his head.
“I was just excited,” Postell said. “This is my last year to come out and play together with these guys. I cherish every play and treat every play like it’s my last.”