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July 17, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 47

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 47 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 47, so we're looking at a Herculean performance from a Pitt running back.

Pitt has seen some monster performances from its running backs recently. LeSean McCoy had a trio of phenomenal performances in three of the Panthers' biggest wins in the 10 years. Against West Virginia in the 2007 13-9 game, McCoy was a beast, with 148 yards on 38 carries. The next year he did it to the Mountaineers again, rushing for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. And that performance only barely eclipsed his effort against Notre Dame when he rushed for 169 yards and a score on 32 carries in South Bend.

Ray Graham was no slouch either. In his first career start, Graham put in the second-most rushing yards in Pitt history with 277 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries against Florida International in 2010. A year later he topped the 200-yard mark again, rushing for 226 and two scores on 26 carries against South Florida. And last season Graham carried the load against Notre Dame when he rushed 24 times for 172 yards and one touchdown.

All of those were mighty efforts and rightfully earned the praise of fans and coaches alike. But in the face of all of those performances, despite the unbelievable showings from McCoy in huge wins and Graham's eye-popping 200-yard games, one other running back's single-game output stands above the rest, and it came in one of the most heartbreaking defeats in Pitt history.

In the 2009 regular-season finale against Cincinnati, freshman running back Dion Lewis was a man among men. With both teams competing for the Big East championship, the diminutive Lewis was a giant for Pitt. The Panthers went to him early and often, and when the final horn sounded, Lewis had carried the ball 47 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns.

With 47 rushing attempts, Lewis broke the record set by the much larger Craig Heyward 16 years earlier. And Lewis ground out his 194 yards: unlike that season's Buffalo game, when he rushed for 190 yards but gained 85 of those on one play, only four of his 47 carries against Cincinnati gained more than nine yards.

He also had five carries that went for loss, but the remaining 38 carries were grinding, move-the-sticks rushes that propelled the Pitt offense to a 31-10 lead in the second quarter and a 38-24 lead in the fourth quarter.

Lewis' 194 yards against Cincinnati pushed his rushing total into No. 5 on the all-time single-season list in Pitt history, and the 157 yards he gained in the bowl game landed him at No. 2 with 1,799 yards (setting the single-season record for a Big East freshman). He set the Pitt freshman touchdown record that season and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Big East Rookie of the Year.

Lewis deserved a better fate for his performance than the crushing one-point loss that would come from that game, but while the day stands in Pitt history for its bitter ending, Lewis' effort merits independent consideration. He played like a Big East champion that day, even if his team couldn't claim the crown.

Previous entries in the Countdown

Countdown: 48 - The highest-scoring game
Countdown: 49 - The sack master
Countdown: 50 - The winningest coach in Pitt history
Countdown: 51 - A kicking record
Countdown: 52 - The link between Goldberg and Dorsett
Countdown: 53 - The legacy of Henry Ford
Countdown: 54 - A "Corny" mid-century quarterback
Countdown: 55 - Pitt makes history
Countdown: 56 - Panthers in the Super Bowl
Countdown: 57 - A unique scoring title
Countdown: 58 - Another Dorsett record
Countdown: 59 - The rare 59-point game
Countdown: 60 - A record that won't be broken
Countdown: 61 - Pitt's longest-running rivalry
Countdown: 62 - The last touchdown against Penn State
Countdown: 63 - The No Bowl Panthers
Countdown: 64 - The most passes in a game
Countdown: 65 - The other 13-9
Countdown: 66 - A local star
Countdown: 67 - One-win seasons
Countdown: 68 - The most prolific receiving game
Countdown: 69 - One of the biggest plays in Pitt history
Countodwn: 70 - The origin of Pitt's nine championships
Countdown: 71 - A good player in a bad era
Countdown: 72 - An All-American who became a dentist
Countdown: 73 - May Day
Countdown: 74 - A "groundwork" season
Countdown: 75 - A successful DL-to-OL move
Countdown: 76 - The 1976 national championship
Countdown: 77 - The last three-sport athletes
Countdown: 78 - An underrated pro
Countdown: 79 - One of the best
Countdown: 80 - The greatest non-championship team in Pitt history
Countdown: 81 - A crushing end to a great season
Countdown: 82 - The dawn of the Foge Era
Countdown: 83 - The most accurate kicker in Pitt history
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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