Morelli OnLion: They’re Back!

Just like that, football is back on top in Happy Valley.

A little over a week since Penn State introduced new men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers, football took center stage once again on Tuesday when it was announced that Pitt and Penn State would renew their rivalry on the gridiron.

In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the renewal and what it means for the future. We’ll also have some wrestling news.

They’re Back!

Although they haven’t met since 2000, Pitt and Penn State will renew their rivalry starting in 2016. The schools announced Tuesday that they will re-start the once awesome rivalry beginning with a game at Heinz Field in 2016. The Panthers will then visit Beaver Stadium in 2017.

I have one reaction to this news – it’s awesome. I just wish it were longer.

As it stands now, the games in 2016 and 2017 are the only ones scheduled, but at least there’s hope.

Pitt and Penn State played some epic games in the 1970s. The series will begin again in 2016.

The last meeting came in 2000 at Three Rivers Stadium, where Pitt posted a 12-0 win over the Nittany Lions. However, Penn State fans will quickly point out that PSU leads the all-time series 50-42-4.

In an era where we’ve gotten used to seeing Coastal Carolina, Temple and Central Michigan visiting Beaver Stadium, the news that Pitt is back on the schedule – at least temporarily – is welcome news. There’s a generation of fans who have no idea how good this rivalry once was – and how good it can be again.

While we have no idea how good (or how bad) the teams will be come 2016, we can make one guarantee – Pitt vs. Penn State will be a tough ticket. It always has been, always will be. It will be especially tough in Pittsburgh due to the capacity of Heinz Field.

The announcement caught many fans off guard. Make no mistake about it, though, this is big news. WJAC-TV in Johnstown chose to lead the 11 o’clock news with a three- to four-minute segment about the renewal of the rivalry.

The news may be even bigger at the University of Pittsburgh, where the Panthers have struggled to sell out Heinz Field since moving there from Pitt Stadium.

“We are very pleased that this two-game series is now in place, and a new generation of fans can experience the excitement of a Pitt-Penn State football game,” Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said in a statement.

Halfway across the state, Penn State was pleased to announce the addition of the Panthers to the schedule.

“We are very excited about renewing our rivalry with Pitt,” Penn State AD Tim Curley said in a statement. “We have worked our schedules to play some of our neighboring  rivalries like Syracuse, Rutgers and Temple and are glad to have identified dates that worked for our schedules to play Pitt. The Penn State-Pitt game was one that football fans across the Commonwealth have been passionate about. There have been many memorable Penn State-Pitt games, featuring outstanding players and coaches, and we look forward to playing the Panthers again. “

In the coming weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the rivalry and how this will impact college football – not only in Pennsylvania  – but across the nation.

Cael Returns to the Mat

A buzz surrounded Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center Saturday where wrestling icon and Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson reemerged into the wrestling world for USA Wrestling’s World Team Trials and swept the 185-pound weight class in freestyle.

Sanderson defeated Jake Herbert in the best-of-three championships to qualify for the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey in September. He claimed round one 4-1, 2-0 before clinching his spot with a 5-2, 2-0 win for a successful comeback.

Herbert was a two-time national champion at Northwestern University and a silver medalist at the 2009 World Championships. He entered the World Team Trials top-seeded after winning the U.S. Open title back in April and automatically advancing to the best-of-three series.

Sanderson started his tournament with a bye before beating Raymond Jordan of Sunkist Kids, 4-0, 0-1, 2-0. He then pinned two-time Oklahoma State national champion Chris Pendleton of the Gator Wrestling Club (3-1, 1:03) during the second period of his semifinal bout.

Sanderson topped the mini challenge tournament by winning 4-1, 1-0 over 2011 national champion Jon Reader, whom he’d formerly recruited and coached at Iowa State. Reader defeated Sanderson’s current pupil and 2011 national champion Quentin Wright, 1-0, 2-1 to compete against his former head coach.

Sanderson, who will turn 32 on June 20, stopped competing soon after earning the Olympic gold medal in Athens, Greece in 2004. He compiled 159 straight wins at Iowa State and remains the only undefeated, four-time national champion (1999 – 2002).

In only his second year at the program’s helm, Sanderson coached the Penn State wrestling team to its first national title since 1953 last season. He was also inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Thursday night, June 9.

Sanderson will be joined by his Nittany Lion Wrestling Club teammates Jake Varner at 211.5 and Teyon Ware at 145.5. The trio will represent almost half of Team USA’s seven wrestlers who’ll be competing at the World Championships.

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!

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