Pitt to ‘Lock the Gates’ with PSU

Panthers players discuss September 8 showdown

Josh Rowntree
August 10, 2018 - 11:30 am
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (left) and Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi (right) congratulate each other at mid field following the competition of the game at Beaver Stadium

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

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Now just a month until the much-anticipated third round of the Pitt-Penn State football rivalry, Panthers players generally stayed away from the topic during Thursday’s media day.

“I look at it as a game that we have to win,” senior offensive lineman Alex Bookser said. “They’re probably going to be ranked whatever they’re ranked. Those are games that we want to win and we want to win them badly.”

Two years ago, Pitt took down Penn State at Heinz Field. Last season, the matchup shifted to Happy Valley and the Nittany Lions prevailed. The teams meet again September 8 in Pittsburgh.  

“It’s going to be a dog fight, as usual,” junior wide receiver Tre Tipton said. “We’re looking forward to that dog fight. But, mainly, we just want to play for these seniors. 

“We’ve got an old guy in our room. We want to play for him and make sure that he goes out this year with a great record and above what we’ve ever done before.”

The ‘old guy’ is 22-year-old senior Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who is certainly aware that many Penn State fans and some within the University do not view Pitt as a rival anymore. 

Last season, after the game, Penn State coach James Franklin said, “last year, for their win, it was like the Super Bowl. But, for us, this was just like beating Akron."

The comments enraged many Pitt faithful.

"Since they don't want to consider it a rivalry, I'm not going to call it a rivalry,” Araujo-Lopes said. “But, for me, it's going to be an important game, it's going to be a big game and I think it's going to set our season off."

Unlike Araujo-Lopes, who hails from Florida, Bookser grew up in Mt. Lebanon and has more of a personal connection in the rivalry. One of his best childhood friends is former Penn State safety Troy Apke. 

“I don’t really worry as much what they think on the other side,” he said. “I don’t know why you would lessen an opponent.”  

“We know who they are. We know they’re good. They’re a good team, just like a lot of the other teams we’re going to play. We’re going to take it serious. You love playing people in-state.”

Tipton, who had the early part of his career at Pitt taken away due to injury, was unable to factor into Pitt’s 33-14 loss at Beaver Stadium in 2017 or the 42-39 win the year prior. He’s now keeping his eye on the big picture.

“We’re not looking to be 5-7, we’re not looking to be 8-5,” he said, acknowledging that Pitt does play Albany before they battle Penn State. “We’re looking to be way better than we’ve ever been. And that’s the goal. 

“So, with that said, no matter what the situation is, no matter who we’re playing, we’re going to take it and go in there and ‘lock the gates.’”

The expression, ‘lock the gates,’ has been said within the Pitt program for some time, but has become more prominent in the school’s marketing during this offseason. It is painted on the ground as players take the field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in the South Side. It harkens back to the days when gladiators were locked into the Coliseum floor often, ironically enough, with lions. 

When Araujo-Lopes was asked if he feels disrespected by the way Penn State views Pitt, Araujo-Lopes summed it up.

“Nope,” he said, almost dramatically abrupt. “Just, when September 8th rolls around, we’re going to be ready. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be ready and it’s going to be a good game.”

A fight is on the horizon. Gladiators against Lions. Only one month until they ‘lock the gates.’