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June 11, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 83

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 83 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 83, so we're looking at the most accurate kicker in Pitt history.

After Pitt's four-overtime win at Notre Dame Stadium in 2008, head coach Dave Wannstedt summed up the four-hour epic that had just taken place on one of the storied fields in college football.

"All the legends are made in games like this," an exhausted and ecstatic Wannstedt said in the postgame press conference.

There were more than a few legends to come out of that pleasant Saturday in November 2008. LeSean McCoy was unbelievable, carrying Pitt's offense with 169 yards on 32 carries, including 42 yards on nine carries in overtime. Pat Bostick was a legend in his own way, completing a little more than half of his passes and throwing three interceptions but coming up with two fourth-down completions, including one that scored a touchdown and tied the game with two minutes left in regulation.

Scott McKillop had 15 tackles in the game. Jonathan Baldwin caught the game-tying touchdown. Oderick Turner picked up a key fourth down. LaRod Stephens-Howling scored a rushing touchdown. Aaron Berry made seven tackles.

But arguably the biggest legend to come from that game was Conor Lee. Pitt's placekicker converted a school-record five field goals against Notre Dame, including four in overtime and the gut-check of all gut-checks: a 22-yard attempt with the game on the line and the hopes of his teammates, coaches, and Pitt fans hanging in the balance.

There was never any doubt about Lee's kick, and as it sailed through the uprights the Pitt players rushed the field, having come back from a two-touchdown deficit at halftime in a game without their starting quarterback, a game played one week after an embarrassing blowout loss to Rutgers at Heinz Field.

There were a lot of heroes that day in South Bend, and Lee was chief among them. A native of Upper St. Clair, Lee went to prep school for a year before joining Pitt as a walk-on in the spring of 2004. In 2006 he became the Panthers' starting kicker, but he didn't go on scholarship until the following January.

That kick against Notre Dame was the first and only game-winner of Lee's career, but it was hardly the only highlight.

In three years as Pitt's starter, Conor Lee established himself as the most accurate, most productive, and quite possibly best overall kicker in school history. He holds the team record for career field-goal percentage at 83.3% (the figure that ties Lee to this day in the Countdown to Labor Day). He broke Carson Long's record for consecutive PAT's (113; he never missed one in his career). He is one of four Pitt kickers who have attempted five field goals in a game, but he's the only one who made all five. He holds the record for most points by a kicker in a single game (18 in the Notre Dame win). And he is tied for the consecutive field goals record (12 in a row in 2007).

Lee is No. 3 on Pitt's all-time scoring list. Carson Long ranks No. 2 on the list with five more points, but Long had a four-year career at Pitt, while Lee was active for only three years.

Pitt has had some walk-ons who put in productive careers, but there aren't many who can claim to have had as much impact as Lee did from 2006 to 2008.

Countdown: 84 - Pitt in the Pro Bowl
Countdown: 85 - A play that will never be matched
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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