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River City Rivalry Possesses Rich History Between Pitt-Cincinnati



Pitt football linebacker Bangally Kamara.

The River City Rivalry is one that might not rank at the top of Pitt football fans’ minds in terms of the all-time series, but it possesses a rich history that extends more than a century ago.

The Panthers and the Bearcats have faced off 12 total times, with the longest streak between the two teams occurring from 2005-12, when both teams competed in the Big East conference.

The rivalry is based on the fact that the two schools are similar in size, both along the Ohio River (hence the rivalry name) and that the professional sports teams in each city already are rivals. The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates have had some great games against each other in baseball and the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have a hatred for each other on the gridiron only seen in the AFC North division.

The first two matchups took place in a home-and-away in 1921 and 1922. Pitt hosted Cincinnati at Forbes Field on October 15, 1921 at 3:00 p.m. in what turned out to be a surprisingly good game.

The Bearcats came into the game just two weeks after losing 50-0 to the West Virginia Mountaineers in Morgantown, who the Panthers defeated the previous week. The Panthers took a 7-0 lead at halftime, with many of their star players off for the game, including All-Americans in center Herb Stein, halfback Tom Davies and quarterback Tom Holleran.

The game took a weird turn after Pitt got the ball from a Cincinnati fumble on their own eight-yard line. Backup quarterback Tom Elias punted to get out of danger, but he shanked it and a Cincinnati halfback caught the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

Cincinnati then kicked off from the 30-yard line, after Pitt made an illegal substitution. The ensuing kickoff saw a Pitt player touch the ball in the end zone, which a Cincinnati player jumped onto to score another touchdown and take a 14-7 lead.

The Panthers managed to win the game thanks to All-American Orville Hewitt saving the day. He scored on a 15-yard rush to tie it up at 14 and then intercepted a forward pass and ran it back 60 yards for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, ensuring a 21-14 win for the Panthers.

Pitt traveled to Cincinnati the following year and opened the 1922 season on Sept. 30 with a 37-0 blowout. Cincinnati, led by former Pitt great George McClaren, finished with a 1-7-1 record that year.

The River City Rivalry didn’t take place again for 57 more years until 1979. Pitt shutout Cincinnati again, 35-0 at Pitt Stadium and then demolished them again at home in 1981, 38-7, as the No. 7 team in the country. Legendary quarterback Dan Marino led Pitt in both contests.

The true start of the River City Rivalry began in 2005, with both teams finally in the same conference together in the Big East. The Panthers won the first three matchups, with now Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi working as Bearcats defensive coordinator from 2004-06.

The biggest win for Pitt in the rivalry during the Big East came in 2007, with Cincinnati coming in 6-1 and ranked No. 23. Cincinnati took a 17-10 lead into halftime, but Pitt had a great running attack with future NFL players in star freshman LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling each rushing for 100+ yards, en route to a 24-17 comeback win. Cincinnati also turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, ensuring the Pitt victory.

The Bearcats would finally win in the series in 2008, including four of the next five games through 2012, when both teams left the Big East. That 2008 victory, 28-21 in Cincinnati, gave the Bearcats their first Big East title.

The 2009 River City Rivalry game is the one that Pitt fans dread the most remembering. Both teams came into the de facto Big East Championship game with big expectations, as the victor would win the conference title.

Pitt jumped out to a 31-10 lead, but Cincinnati cut the advantage to 14 heading into halftime, thanks to Mardy Gilyard taking the ensuing kickoff return for a touchdown. Cincinnati tied the game at 38-38, but a rushing touchdown from Pitt running back Dion Lewis put Pitt back up with 90 seconds remaining.

Special teams holder Andrew Janocko mishandled the snap on the point after, which only put Pitt’s lead at 44-38. Cincinnati would then march down the field and quarterback Tony Pike completed a 29-yard touchdown to Armon Binns to tie the game and the completed point-after won them the game, 45-44 and their second straight Big East title.

The Panthers won the 2010 matchup, which featured a fight between the teams mascots and the final game for head coach Dave Wannstedt, but the Bearcats won the last two matchups against mediocre Panthers head coaches in Todd Graham in 2011 and Paul Chryst in 2012.

The two teams play each other for the first time in 11 years this Saturday, Sept. 9, 6:30 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium, in front of a national audience on the CW Network. Both teams are coming off of wins against FCS opponents in Week 1, Wofford for Pitt and Eastern Kentucky for Cincinnati.

If Saturday is anything like the past, it should be a fantastic game that will grow the Rivalry City Rivalry going into next season in Cincinnati.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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