PITTSBURGH, PA -- "I haven't felt this good since I murdered a Mole Soldier with my bare hands!" Those words, delivered by first-year Pitt head coach Todd Grantham in the locker room, sent his victorious players into a shouting frenzy, the sort you usually only see when a human medical encampment is suddenly attacked by giant rhino wasps. The win broke a four year losing streak against non-conference opponents for the Panthers, stretching back to 2017. (Pitt only played three games in 2019, all of them in conference, due to the Mutation Tsunamis.)
The visiting Tennessee Volunteers, however, refused to let the loss spoil their mood. "It's tough knowing that we led by a touchdown with four minutes to go, but every member of this team's been through worse," said linebacker Nathan Donahue, who was recruited to Tennessee from a fallout relief camp after his family was killed in the Microscopic Water Moccasin Siege of Atlanta. "We fought like the Three-Armed Sleepless Ones, but it just wasn't enough."
"Of course, the Three-Armed Sleepless Ones all died when we learned their bodies couldn't process helium gas, even in small amounts."
Tennessee jumped out to an early lead, scoring a touchdown and a field goal before the Panther offense even hit the field thanks to a fumbled kickoff by Pitt returner Scott Marks. Though Grantham complained to the referees that the play should have been whistled dead because Marks was carried off by a swarm of vampiric hummingbirds, the officials determined that replay was inconclusive as to whether Marks had control of the ball when the birds attacked. In a statement, Pitt promised that "no ransom other than the blood of his people" would be paid to the vampire hummingbird king.
But Pittsburgh battled back into the game with a balanced attack on offense and a defensive scheme that forced most of Tennessee's plays to the sideline or to one of the dozens of lava pits appearing spontaneously on the field. At halftime, the Panthers had tied the game at 13, to the delight of the hundreds of fans left in the stadium who hadn't been conscripted into one of the city's dozens of Wandering Armies.
"The momentum got away from us a bit," said Volunteers coach Brian VanGorder, "and we just weren't able to recover. This is a tough place to play, mostly because after sundown the Priests of Nothingness start attacking the perimeter. But I don't want to make excuses."
In last year's game, Tennessee thumped the Panthers 45-7, though many Pitt players could not make the trip due to the near-impassibility of most roads and highways due to an unseasonably cold September, with temperatures averaging -133 degrees. That prompted the NCAA to move the game to June, when it could be played at a more comfortable -6 beneath the ash-covered skies of Eastern Pennsylvania.
The Vols now get a bye before their conference opener against Missouri. Pitt will play this Thursday, against Georgia Tech and Cyborg Paul Johnson.