When you’re 5-4 and playing on the road against the No. 2 team in the country, not a lot of people give you a legitimate chance to win.
Pitt didn’t care. The Panthers sent shockwaves throughout the college football world Saturday, stunning Clemson, 43-42, in Death Valley.
“Just trust in the plan and trust in each other,” Pitt running back James Conner said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It sounds cliche, but that’s the truth. Coach (Matt) Canada, the offensive coordinator, does a great job throughout the whole week of building our confidence. He really believes in us, and he knows what he’s doing. We had a plan in place. All week he was telling us – and we were telling each other – we’re going to go win this game. Nobody gave us a chance – even friends and family. We’re not mad at them by any means because it’s to be expected, but we believed in each other and believed in a plan and felt we were the most physical. We ended up winning the game. For us to get the win there at their place on Senior Night, that was one of the best moments of my life.”
Conner played a major role in the win. He ran 20 times for 132 yards and a touchdown and caught three balls for 57 yards and a score. In the end, though, it was Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt who drilled the go-ahead 48-yard field goal with six seconds to go to seal the win.
“(Clemson) can do anything in six seconds, so I didn’t want to celebrate too much,” Conner said. “But it felt good to see the ball go through.”
Conner’s 20-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes to play brought Pitt within 42-40.
“I was kind of proud of myself,” Conner said. “Late in the game, throughout the season I’ve been battling with endurance and conditioning issues. I would get tired because I didn’t have much time to prepare for the season, and I just felt a little accomplished. For me to have a big run late in game in the the fourth quarter with only five minutes left, I just was feeling extra blessed that I had the strength, the energy, the mindset and that I’m back at playing at such a high level, playing the No. 2 team in the nation when there was a chance I couldn’t play football anymore. Really, just everything hit me.”
Conner, the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. He underwent a dozen chemotherapy sessions, ultimately beating the disease and playing in Pitt’s season-opening 28-7 win over Villanova.
“That day was very special,” Conner said. “From the wake-up to the pregame meal, the bus ride to the stadium – I really just took it all in. It wasn’t my best day on the ground as far as the yards and the stats, but I don’t really care about that. What I do care about is that my doctor, my family, my nurses and my teammates and everybody was there. It was just a special day, a day I’ll never forget.”
Conner has rushed 175 times for 844 yards – 4.8 yards per carry – and 12 touchdowns this season. He also has 18 catches for 254 yards and three scores.
Pitt (6-4), which lost at Oklahoma State, at North Carolina and against Virginia Tech by a combined 11 points, hosts Duke (4-6) this Saturday. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. ET.