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National champs before and after, Pitt and Penn State have been night owls four times

The Tribune-Review, Greensburg — Jerry DiPaola The Tribune-Review, Greensburg

May 17--When Pitt and Penn State line up Sept. 8 for the historic series' last game in Pittsburgh for at least the next decade, it will mark only the fifth time the teams have kicked off after dark.

The schools announced Wednesday that ABC-TV has placed the game in its prime-time Saturday night spotlight. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. at Heinz Field.

Perhaps surprisingly, Pitt and Penn State have started only four games 7:30 p.m. or later, although many kicked off in late afternoon and ended with night falling. This year's game will be the first started under the lights in 31 years.

Here is a look back at all four night games:

Penn State 31, Pitt 10, Nov. 28, 1974

Both teams were ranked in the Associated Press Top 20 entering this game on Thanksgiving night at Three Rivers Stadium. Penn State was No. 10 and headed toward a 10-2 record, and Pitt was No. 18 in coach Johnny Majors' second season. The Panthers started 7-2 before losing at Notre Dame, 14-10, the previous week.

Pitt was the only member of the Top 20 not invited to a bowl game. It also was the only season under Majors in the '70s that Pitt didn't go to a bowl.

Pittsburgh newspaper columnist Bill Christine put the teams' successful seasons in perspective in the lead to his story the next day:

"Penn State, long the fat cat, and Pitt, a member of the nouveau riche," Christine wrote, "can look at their football programs and smile wide smiles."

The rivalry, apparently, meant more to Penn State 44 years ago than it does today. Coach Joe Paterno told the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press before the game, "We'd rather beat Pitt than go to a bowl."

Agreed Majors, "The bowl game is far, far subservient to this game."

But no one was smiling in Dallas where Cotton Bowl representatives, who already had invited Penn State to its game before its loss to N.C. State three weeks earlier, watched nervously as Pitt took a 7-6 halftime lead.

Penn State rallied, partially on the strength of Chris Bahr's school-record four field goals. Paterno attributed the two-sport athlete's success to the rest he was getting now that the soccer season had ended.

Pitt 24, Penn State 7, Nov. 26, 1976

The game was originally scheduled for State College, but ABC-TV wanted to televise it in prime time, and there were no lights at Beaver Stadium.

Paterno agreed to move the game to Three Rivers Stadium under this condition -- the 1978, 1979 and 1980 games would be played in State College.

That was fine with Pitt, and the Panthers ended up winning two of those three, anyway.

Penn State only ended up 7-5 that season, but the Nittany Lions stuffed soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett in the first half, holding him to 51 yards on 16 carries.

Majors surprised Penn State by installing an unbalanced line and moving Dorsett to fullback in the second half, and he more than tripled his first-half effort, running for 173 yards.

"I didn't think they could run up the gut like that against us," Paterno said.

"I don't think Joe Paterno and that defense knew what hit them," Dorsett said.

When undefeated Pitt beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, it won its first national championship since 1937.

Penn State 31, Pitt 0, Nov. 23, 1985

Penn State was on its way to an undefeated regular season and the Orange Bowl while Pitt' Foge Fazio was coaching his last game before he was dismissed at the end of a 5-5-1 year.

North Allegheny graduate Tim Manoa ran for two touchdowns in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 60,134 at Pitt Stadium.

After the game, Paterno said he was eager to play Oklahoma for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. (Penn State lost, 25-10.)

He also was pleased his team rebounded from an embarrassing 31-11 loss to Pitt the year before at Beaver Stadium. After that game, he called his players "babies."

Pitt 10, Penn State 0, Nov. 14, 1987

There was a purpose to Pitt coach Mike Gottfried sprinting into the end zone to join his team's celebration after Billy Owens' 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final half-minute.

Gottfried was knocked to the ground, unharmed, after Owens ran the final 35 yards with the football held aloft with one hand.

This victory was important to Gottfried because of what happened in 1986.

Near the end of that game, a 34-14 Penn State victory at Beaver Stadium, a fight broke out and Paterno called the combatants, including his players, "a disgrace to the game."

Gottfried took Paterno's words personally, and used the incident as a battle cry against the defending national champion Nittany Lions in 1987.

It was Paterno's only loss at Pitt Stadium, and Pitt's first victory there against the Nittany Lions since 1965.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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