Johnny Majors made his second successful debut at Pitt Thursday night, with Curtis Martin scoring twice and Tom Tumulty making two key defensive plays to preserve the Panthers' 14-10 victory over Southern Mississippi.
The victory came two decades after Pitt held heavily favored Georgia to a 7-7 tie in Majors' first game as coach. Three seasons later, Pitt won the national championship.Majors, forced out last December after 16 seasons at Tennessee, returned to Pitt to rebuild a program that had a 13-20-1 record the last three seasons, including 3-9 last year.
Martin, one of just four returning offensive starters, ran for one touchdown and caught a TD pass from sophomore quarterback John Ryan, who replaced four-year starter Alex Van Pelt.
Ryan hooked up with Martin for a 9-yard touchdown with 5:27 left in the third quarter for what proved to be the winning score, but it took a few breaks and a couple of big defensive plays for Pitt to win its seventh straight season opener.
Tommy Waters drove Southern Miss to the Pitt 34 by completing six of eight passes in a 55-yard march, only to have Tumulty intercept a sideline pass with 43 seconds left.
Martin gave Pitt a 7-0 lead with a 2-yard run on fourth-and-1 just three minutes into the game as the Panthers took advantage of Chris Buckhalter's fumble.
Southern Miss tied it when Myreon McKinney scored from the 1 on a pitchout.
The Golden Eagles moved to the Pitt 18 in the second quarter, but Tumulty sacked Waters on third and 4, forcing Johnny Lomoro to kick a 42-yard field goal.
Dietrich Jells returned the second-half kickoff 66 yards to the Southern Miss 26, but Pitt came away empty when Steve Kalmanides missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
In other games of interest:
Auburn 16, Mississippi 12
In Auburn, Ala., the Terry Bowden era got off to good start at Auburn as James Bostic rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown, Scott Etheridge kicked three field goals and the Tigers survived a fourth-quarter rally to defeat Mississippi 16-12 Thursday night.
Auburn, which lost to the Rebels 45-21 in the season opener last year, redeemed itself in the debut of the 37-year-old Bowden, who took over when Pat Dye was forced to resign because of NCAA violations.
With his father, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, looking on, the younger Bowden's team built a 16-0 lead in the Southeastern Conference game, then held on when the Rebels came back in the fourth quarter.
Iowa St. 54, N. Illinois 10
In Ames, Iowa, Bob Utter threw three long touchdown passes and scored on a 50-yard run, leading Iowa State to a 54-10 season-opening victory over Northern Illinois on Thursday night.
Northern Illinois' LeShon Johnson, the nation's No. 2 returning rusher behind San Diego State's Marshall Faulk, rushed for 103 yards in 23 carries but did not score. He had a 78-yard run nullified by a holding penalty. Northern Illinois is a member of the Big West football consortium this season.
Idaho 38, Stephen F. Austin 30
In Nacodoches, Texas, running back Sherriden May rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns to lead Idaho to a 38-30 nonconference victory over Stephen F. Austin in a Division I-AA Kickoff Classic Thursday night.
SFA turned the ball over four times, but still racked up 416 total yards on offense. Idaho compiled 345 offensive yards.
Kyle Gary had five receptions for 68 yards and one touchdown for the Vandals of the Big Sky Conference.