Pitt suffers emotional loss to Northwestern in Pinstripe Bowl
NEW YORK — Seniors Ejuan Price and Adam Bisnowaty had seen this act before Pitt’s 31-24 loss to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Pitt doesn’t lose games quite as regularly as it did before coach Pat Narduzzi arrived two years ago, but the program never is completely without players enduring some type of heartbreak.
Start 6-1, finish 8-5. That was the scenario last year.
Win three in a row, upset two top-five teams, finish 8-5 again. That’s how this season ended Wednesday before 37,918 at Yankee Stadium, a game where Pitt lost quarterback Nathan Peterman and running back James Conner to head injuries and All-American guard Dorian Johnson (leg).
Same ending, only the chapters were different.
“It’s not the way you want your seniors to go out,” Narduzzi said.
There were bare emotions and moist eyes in the Pitt locker room after the game. But they had little to do with Pitt’s five trips into the red zone that produced one field goal or the way Northwestern running back Justin Jackson abused the Pitt defense — a once-proud run defense — by rushing for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
The four Northwestern fourth-down conversions hurt — and led to the touchdown pass that gave the Wildcats their last lead in the fourth quarter — but Price’s heart hurt for another reason.
“I didn’t think I was going to be that guy,” said Price, who collected a sack to tie Aaron Donald for fourth on Pitt’s all-time list with 29 1⁄2. “I gave a little speech (after the game). Tears were running, (for) more than losing the game.
“I look at Pitt as a family. That’s what to me was emotional. Not the loss. It’s hurting my heart because some guys you never see again.”
Bisnowaty, who played in 45 games for two coaching staffs after he was recruited by a third, shouldered all the blame when Peterman left the game late in the third quarter with a head injury and didn’t return.
With Pitt down 21-17, Peterman was hit helmet-to-helmet by defensive end Xavier Washington, who wasn’t penalized.
“A little miscommunication,” said Bisnowaty, the left tackle. “I take that full responsibility. Train a little harder and that hit would never have happened, so I blame myself.”
Peterman was one of seven starters who missed all or parts of the game, including previously injured strong safety Jordan Whitehead, free safety Terrish Webb, nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett and defensive end Rori Blair (coach’s decision).
Peterman’s replacement, redshirt freshman Ben DiNucci, initially looked like he might rally Pitt to victory.
After Chawntez Moss blocked a punt and Pitt had the ball at the Northwestern 22-yard line, DiNucci completed his two passes, including a 6-yard flip to fullback George Aston that gave the Panthers a 24-21 lead three plays into the fourth quarter.
But after Quadree Henderson lost a fumble, three of DiNucci’s last four passes were:
• An incompletion toward three defenders and tight end Scott Orndoff, who almost made a spectacular catch in the end zone that would have tied the score at 31.
• Interceptions at the 3 and on the third play of Pitt’s final drive.
DiNucci, a Pine-Richland graduate who won the backup job during the season without any fanfare, said he holds himself to a higher standard than that. But he did say, “It’s a few years since I’ve had live action.”
Pitt also was down to its third tailback after Conner took a questionable hit to the head away from the ball and Quadree Ollison limped off the field.
Narduzzi said the hit on Conner occurred “without the ball in his hands.”
“One of the defenders turned around, I guess for him, instead of going for the ball. Kind of interesting.”
For his last game at Pitt, Conner had only eight carries for 32 yards and was stopped on fourth down at the 1 in the first quarter.
After a while, such events will be forgotten and, in fact, Pitt will hold a meeting for its returning players next week.
Bisnowaty, however, won’t forget what matters to him: his teammates and the locker room bond they built with each other.
“It’s your life,” he said. “Everything you do is Pitt football, and that’s who you are. That’s who you become. It changed me into the person I am today.”
And the hope is that will last longer than any memory from another Pitt loss.