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Conner scores twice as Pitt wins opener

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James Conner scored twice in his return to the football field, Quadree Henderson returned the second half kick-off for a touchdown and Pitt beat Villanova 28-7 in the Panthers' season-opener on Saturday at Heinz Field.

Pitt fans longed to hear it, and Saturday it finally came to fruition.

James Conner is back.

The junior running back, who fought and won a remarkable battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma, made his triumphant return to the football field exactly one year later on Saturday, when his Panthers defeated Villanova 28-7 at Heinz Field.

Conner, who received a goose bump-worthy standing ovation from the crowd after his first carry in the first quarter, racked up 53 yards on 17 carries with two total touchdowns including the opening score of the year for the Panthers on a 3-yard scamper, stiff-arming his way to pay dirt with 7:08 left in the 2nd quarter.

Qadree Ollison served as the second best rusher, posting 30 yards on 7 carries.

The palpable heroics of Conner overshadowed a game in which defense dictated the tempo.  The Panthers defense shined brightest, holding the FCS Wildcats to a dismal 172 total yards, forcing 9 punts, and a staggering 4 of 16 on 3rd down conversions.

The Wildcats were shutout offensively, as the only points for the visiting squad came on a Rob Rolle 3-yard fumble recovery off of a sack on Nate Peterman early in the 3rd quarter, leaving a punchers’ chance score of 21-7 on the board.

Pitt’s offensive unit, who also struggled for much of the game, got a much needed shot in the arm from Quadree Henderson, who returned the opening kickoff in the 2nd half for a 96-yard dash to the end zone.

Henderson also finished with 35 yards and 4 catches.  Scott Orndoff led all receivers with 68 yards, all thrown from Peterman, who completed his day going 19 of 32 for 175 yards and two touchdowns, including a 9-yard hookup to Conner with just 19 seconds left in the first half.

Despite posting just 261 total yards on the day, the Panthers’ offense closed the game with a promising 10 play- 49 yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard Peterman pass to Jester Weah with just 6 minutes left, closing the scoring for both teams.

The game fans have been waiting for since 2000 comes next Saturday when the Panthers host long-time heated rival Penn State.  Kickoff for that sold out event will take place at noon and can be nationally viewed on ESPN or ABC.

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