Written by Jeff Schmidt
(The Bronx, New York City, New York) There were home runs being hit at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, but ironically none came from players wearing pinstripe uniforms. Known as “New York’s Bowl Game” the seventh edition of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl was filled with fireworks as the Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Pitt Panthers, 31-24.
Pitt had an opportunity to tie the game late with a drive that started on their 34-yard line, but Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro iced the game with an interception on third down. Northwestern finished the 2016 season with a record of 7-6 while Pitt dropped to 8-5. The Wildcats concluded the season winning six of their last nine games after losing three of their first four.
Pitt controlled the early portion of the contest holding Northwestern to just one first down on their first two possessions, but momentum began to swing in the Wildcats’ favor after running back Justin Jackson picked up 68 yards on a big play during the teams’ third possession of the game. The running back would go on to score the first of his three rushing touchdowns on the day to conclude that drive which gave Northwestern the 7-3 lead. Jackson, who was named the game’s MVP, finished with 224 yards on 32 carries and 3 touchdowns.
Northwestern would fumble on their next possession, but the defense held Pitt to a three-and-out. That stop set up Jackson’s second score and allowed Northwestern to take a commanding 14-3 lead. It was the 5th time this year and 8th time in his career that Jackson had a multi-touchdown game. Pitt would answer back quickly, however, as Nathan Peterman connected with Jester Weah on a 69-yard score on the first play of the drive. Northwestern took the 14-10 lead going into the half, but Pat Narduzzi’s bunch came out swinging to start the third quarter. A 4-play, 68-yard drive was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Nathan Peterman to give the Panthers the lead. The Panthers quarterback finished the game going 13 of 18 for 253 yards and a touchdown, but was forced to leave the game early with an apparent head injury.
Pitt would regain the lead one final time in the game after backup quarterback Ben DiNucci connected with fullback George Alston early in the 4th quarter, but a 21-yard touchdown pass from Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson to Garrett Dickerson clinched the victory for Northwestern. Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald couldn’t be more proud of the way his players performed and had a special thank you note for a few members of the media. “I’d like to give an extra special shout out to Danny Kanell and the ESPN crew that told us that we would just be happy to be here”, Fitzgerald said. “Our video crew put that together and it was the last thing we saw video wise today and I greatly appreciate the extra motivation”.
NFL Draft prospect and Pitt running back James Conner excited the game at halftime, and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi spoke about why Conner exited the game: "He took a hit to the head without the ball, “ said Narduzzi. “I guess [the defender] went after him instead." Conner finished his Pitt career with 3,701 yards and 52 rushing touchdowns.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Northwestern Wildcats will take on the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, December 28. This year’s game will be nationally televised by ESPN and will be broadcasted by ESPN Radio.
“We’re overjoyed to accept an invitation to the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl and have the opportunity to compete against Pittsburgh in a unique game environment,” said Jim Phillips, Northwestern vice president for athletics & recreation. “This time of year is a tremendous experience for our student-athletes and fans, and we’re grateful for one more opportunity to take the field. Beyond the University’s deep ties to the Steinbrenner and Girardi families, New York City is home to the largest Wildcats alumni community outside Chicago. We can’t wait to see them – and hear them - at Yankee Stadium later this month."
Northwestern is bowl eligible for the seventh time in the last nine seasons under Dan & Susan Jones Family Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald, after concluding the regular-season with a 42-21 victory over Illinois at Ryan Field to retain the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
The Wildcats offense was led by senior wide receiver Austin Carr, a Billetnikoff Award finalist and 2016 All-Big Ten First Team honoree, who ended the regular season ranked first in the conference in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,196), and receiving touchdowns (12). He also was the recipient of the 2016 Richter-Howard Award, presented by the Big Ten to its “Receiver of the Year.”
First Team All-Big Ten running back Justin Jackson led the Conference in rushing (1,300 yards) at the end of regular season play and paced the Wildcats with 12 rushing touchdowns. First Team All-Big Ten defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo helped lead the defense, tying for the Conference lead with 10 sacks.
“Our entire football family is ecstatic for the opportunity to take the field one more time this season in an iconic setting,” said Fitzgerald. “I have great respect for Pat Narduzzi, his staff, and the Panthers student-athletes. They’ve done a remarkable job this season. This is going to be a tremendous challenge against a disciplined and physical opponent. We can’t wait to get to New York.”
Pittsburgh, led by head coach Pat Narduzzi, will be making its ninth consecutive bowl appearance and 33rd all-time. They were the only team in the nation this year to defeat two “Power 5” conference champions (Penn State of the Big Ten and Clemson of the ACC). The Panthers finished the regular season with an 8-4 record, including aforementioned victories vs. Penn State (42-39) on September 10, and a 43-42 win at then No. 2-ranked Clemson on November 12. The victory at Clemson snapped a 21-game Tigers home winning streak, previously the longest active streak in the NCAA FBS (Division I-A).
Redshirt junior running back James Conner earned 2016 All-ACC First Team honors and was the recipient of the conference’s 2016 Brian Piccolo Award, awarded to the “most courageous” football player in the ACC. Following a knee injury and a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015, he ended the 2016 regular season ranked fifth among all league rushers with 1,060 yards, scoring 20 touchdowns.
Joining Conner on the 2016 All-ACC First Team were sophomore wide receiver Quadree Henderson, redshirt senior defensive end Ejuan Price and senior offensive lineman Dorian Johnson. Henderson finished the regular season ranking 11th nationally in all-purpose yards (159.8 yards per game). Price finished second in ACC “Defensive Player of the Year” balloting and helped anchor a Panthers defense that ranked ninth in the nation in rush defense (108.9 yards per game) at the conclusion of the regular season. Johnson entered the year named as one of the top-100 college football players in the country, according to NFL.com.
“We are pleased and excited to welcome the student-athletes, staff and families of two great institutions in the University of Pittsburgh and Northwestern University to the 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl,“ said Mark Holtzman, Executive Director of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. “There's nothing quite like New York City during the holiday season, and we are confident that the entire bowl week will provide these two universities and their passionate fan bases a collection of unforgettable experiences.”
George M. Steinbrenner, whom the New Era Pinstripe Bowl Trophy is named after, was once an assistant football coach at Northwestern in 1955. Current Yankees manager Joe Girardi is also a graduate of the University.
While Northwestern will be making its Bronx gridiron debut, Pittsburgh will be making its third Yankee Stadium appearance all-time, previously playing in the first ever college football game at the original venue on October 20, 1923 (3-0 loss vs. Syracuse) and on November 17, 1962 (7-6 victory vs. Army).
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