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June 9, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 85



The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 85 days away from its Labor Day opener against Florida State at Heinz Field. Panther-Lair.com is counting down the days until the biggest season opener in recent memory.

Today's number is 85, so we're looking at the first time Pitt scored in its new home.

After 75 years in Pitt Stadium and one season with Three Rivers Stadium as its interim home turf, the Pitt football team took up residence at Heinz Field in the fall of 2001. The first regulation football game played at the new North Shore facility was on September 1 of that year, when Pitt hosted East Tennessee State (the unofficial opening of Heinz Field came in August of that year when the Pittsburgh Steelers played a preseason game, although there was also an 'N Sync concert a week before that).

The Panthers christened their new home in style, putting up 414 yards of total offense and beating East Tennessee State 31-0 in front of 47,919. In perfect Pitt fashion, the first official touchdown in the history of Heinz Field didn't come from an Antonio Bryant catch - he had nine receiving touchdowns that season - or a run by Ray Kirkley or Rod Rutherford - they combined to rush for nine touchdowns - or any other conventional method.

Instead, Pitt's first touchdown at Heinz Field came on a quarterback run. And not just any quarterback, but a scamper that stands as one of the longest plays in Pitt history.

David Priestley, a redshirt senior for the Panthers in 2001, finished his college career with a net total of minus-98 yards on 99 carries. Since college football stats record sacks as carries for a quarterback, that total isn't totally indicative of Priestley's rushing contributions; he actually gained 233 yards on the ground in three active seasons at Pitt.

Still, Priestley was never known as a running quarterback, which makes his touchdown against East Tennessee State in the 2001 opener even more improbable. With the game still scoreless six minutes into the first quarter and Pitt holding the ball at its own 15, Priestley ran around the right side of the formation and took off.

85 yards later, history was made. The play still stands as the sixth-longest rushing play in Pitt history and ranks among the top-ten longest plays from scrimmage. But the true significance of Priestley's run was its place in history:

David Priestley scored the first official touchdown at Heinz Field, and that's a record no one will ever be able to top.

Priestley was in his first year as a full-time starter that season after splitting time with junior-college transfer John Turman the prior two years. Priestley had transferred from Ohio State following the 1997 season and sat out 1998 due to transfer rules. Finally, he had his turn as the top quarterback (although sophomore Rod Rutherford appeared in all 12 games in a versatile role), and Priestley led Pitt to its first bowl victory since 1989 when he out-dueled N.C. State quarterback Phillip Rivers in the Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl.

That day, Priestley threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns as Pitt beat the Wolfpack 34-19. It was a fine conclusion to a strong season for Priestley - he threw for 2,489 yards and 20 touchdowns in 12 games - but his lasting legacy continues to be the 85-yard touchdown run in the season opener.


Countdown: 86 - A long but unfulfilled play
Countdown: 87 - The final year of Ironhead
Countdown: 88 - Pitt's All-American tradition
Countdown: 89 - Iron Mike
Countdown: 90 - The four 9-0's
Countdown: 91 - The two longest plays in Pitt history
Countdown: 92 - The senior year of the most productive QB in Pitt history
Countdown: 93 - The only 9-3 season in Pitt history
Countdown: 94 - The statistical oddity of 1994
Countdown: 95 - A relentless player and his dominant season
Countdown: 96 - The biggest win in Pitt history
Countdown: 97 - A dominant current Panther
Countdown: 98 - A transition year
Countdown: 99 - Hugh Green
Countdown: 100 - A look at Pitt in 1913





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