Sometimes, the last play in a football game is not necessarily the end.
When the University of Toledo stunned No. 9 ranked Pittsburgh 35-31 in the Glass Bowl last night, the clock read all zeros, but the story was far from over. One of the greatest wins in the history of the UT program was official, and at that point, Hollywood took over.
While some of the UT players erupted in celebration, others dropped to their knees, overcome by the moment. The overflow crowd surged onto the field from all corners. Fireworks lit the night sky, and the band played on.
But this kind of game does not end without the goal posts coming down. Despite the best efforts of stadium security, the two golden aluminum cross bars heaved back and forth and then snapped under the weight of the euphoric fans. They banged their way through the stone arches, and were last seen headed for Bancroft Street.
“I'm glad they got the goal posts,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. “It's going to cost us, but whatever it takes, we'll get some more. After a win like this, they had to come down.”
The Rockets trailed by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, scored the final 14 points of the game in the last seven minutes, and got the winning touchdown with only 43 seconds left on the clock. The records fell like dominoes as UT (3-1) surged to the historic victory.
“It was an incredible night. You can't describe the emotions,” UT wide receiver Lance Moore said. “This is what you play football for. This game was like a dream come-true, and you couldn't ask for a better ending.”
Sophomore quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native, hit Moore with a nine-yard touchdown pass for the winning score, lobbing the ball over a Pitt defender.
“As soon as I saw that ball in the air, I knew I had to catch it,” Moore said. “I can't tell you how many times I acted this kind of ending out as a kid.”
The Rockets drove 98 and 83 yards on their final two possessions, and Gradkowski finished with a Mid-American Conference record 49 pass completions, and school records with 62 attempts and 461 passing yards. He threw for three touchdowns - all in the second half. Gradkowski was 20-of-22 in the fourth quarter.
“This is by far the best game I've ever played - against the best competition,” Gradkowski said. “It doesn't matter what you're ranked, you've still got to go out and play it. No matter who it is, it's a big win, but I guess it's bigger since I'm from Pittsburgh.”
Pitt is the highest-ranked team to play in the Glass Bowl, and the Panthers featured All-American candidate Larry Fitzgerald, a 6-3, 225-pound wide receiver, and senior quarterback Rod Rutherford, one of the best in the Big East. Pitt has had a Big East championship and a BCS bowl appearance etched on its schedule.
It started out looking like the Rutherford and Fitzgerald show would be next to impossible to stop. The pair helped Pitt build a 24-14 halftime lead on the Rockets.
After using Fitzgerald to move the ball down the field, Rutherford twice hit Kris Wilson for short touchdown passes. Toledo answered with a four-yard scoring run from Trinity Dawson and a 53-yard TD pass from Gradkowski to Moore. The difference in the first half was a 29-yard Pitt field goal and a nine-yard scoring pass from Rutherford to Fitzgerald.
Toledo took the ball to start the second half and used a combination of short passes from Gradkowski and rushes by Dawson to push it to the Pitt 11, and Gradkowski hit Dawson with a swing pass for the touchdown from there. Jason Robbins kicked the point and UT trailed just 24-21 with over 10 minutes left in the third period, but Pitt quickly scored on another short TD route from Wilson and led 31-21.
The Rockets closed to within 31-28 with 6:45 left in the game as Gradkowski drove UT 98 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown, with Dawson leaping the stack from two yards out to get the score.
The UT defense then stopped Pitt and the Rockets got the ball back at their own 17.
Gradkowski completed 9 of 10 passes on the game-winning drive, including a fourth down pass of 13 yards to tight end Andrew Clarke that got UT into Pitt territory. Gradkowski hit Moore for the decisive score with 43 seconds to play, and the Toledo defense batted down Pitt's final desperation pass into the end zone as time expired.
Then the goal posts came down.
“This has to be one of the biggest wins ever here - to knock off a Top 10 team,” Amstutz said. “What a night. It's the best show in town.”
MAC-FEAST: In its first two games this season, Pitt devoured a couple of Mid-American Conference defenses, gaining 522 yards against Kent State and 473 against Ball State.
Pitt was held scoreless in the first quarter in both of those games, but went on to post a 43-3 win over Kent State and a 42-21 win over Ball State. Last night, the Panthers had 389 yards against UT, but the outcome was very different.
A Pittsburgh newspaper printed a cartoon this week showing a panther - the Pitt Panther - preparing to snack on a third “Big Mac,” which is labeled Toledo.
Two empty and discarded wrappers had the names Kent State and Ball State on them.