CANTON, Ohio – The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-3, in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton.
It was the fourth victory in the annual preseason game for the Steelers.
The game was baseball-like in two ways: The score for much of the game, and at kickoff, it was 83 degrees.
In keeping with early preseason tradition, many starters like quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott sat for Pittsburgh and Dallas, respectively, giving the 20,113 fans in attendance a chance to watch down-the-depth-chart players.
For the Cowboys, fans saw tight end Sean McKeon, a second-year player out of Michigan, haul in a 13-yard pass from Garrett Gilbert for a first down early in the game. And it meant cheering on running back Rico Dowdle, a second-year player from South Carolina, instead of starter Ezekiel Elliott. Dowdle led all rushers with 43 yards. Ben DiNucci, a second-year quarterback out of James Madison, started the second half for Dallas.
Mason Rudolph started for Pittsburgh as Roethlisberger looked on from the sidelines in street clothes. Roethlisberger, one of only seven quarterbacks with 60,000 or more passing yards in league history, will be back in Canton as an inductee in a few years.
Early sputtered drives and missed field-goal opportunities became the theme for much of the game. But Pittsburgh’s defense came up with a solid enough effort to keep Dallas out of the end zone.
Rudolph started by intermingling passes and runs mostly over the middle. He moved the Steelers past the 50 until an errant handoff to Chase Claypool resulted in a fumble, and the Cowboys recovered with less than 12 minutes to go in the first quarter. Gilbert took over at his own 48 and drove the Cowboys, but the Steelers defense came up with a sack by linebacker Alex Highsmith and a broken-up pass by defensive back Tre Norwood. Dallas settled for a 29-yard field goal.
Quarterback Cooper Rush also took snaps late in the second quarter for the Cowboys, and Josh Dobbs came in the fourth quarter for the Steelers.
Steeler fans finally had a chance to wave their Terrible Towels with 10:18 to go in the second quarter, when Garrett hit Claypool for a 45-yard pass, putting the ball on the Cowboys’ 29. Claypool was hobbled on the play. But the drive fizzled, and Sam Sloman missed on a 49-year field goal.
The brought the towels out again when safety Antoine Brooks Jr. quashed a Dallas drive by recovering a fumble after a 20-yard completion and ran it back 15 yards to the Pittsburgh 35. Dwayne Haskins took over at quarterback for the Steelers with fewer than four minutes to go in the first half.
Pittsburgh took the lead when Haskins handed off to Kalen Ballage, who drove four yards with less than 11 minutes to go in the third quarter to give the Steelers a 6-3 lead. The point-after was no good. A minute later, Donovan Stiner intercepted a DiNucci pass, giving the ball back to the Steelers.
Sloman hit a 48-yard field goal with 5:15 to go in the third quarter to make the score 9-3. Dobbs hit Tyler Simmons for a five-yard touchdown with 8:44 to go in the game to push the lead to 16-3 with Sloman’s point-after.
• Dallas and Pittsburgh are tied for the most Hall of Fame game appearances at six apiece. Going into Thursday’s game, both were 3-3.
• The Steelers were the official home team for the game. Other than Cleveland, Pittsburgh is the closet NFL city to the Hall of Fame, at 100 miles away.
• The game’s first flag was thrown at 4:38 of the second quarter, a holding call against Cowboys rookie center Braylon Jones. Fans can only hope the lack of penalties is a harbinger for the league.
• Before kickoff, video clips of inductees aired on the scoreboard for the crowd, a captive audience who watched intently, cheering when the camera caught some of the inductees at the game. Clips included the famed “knock on the door” from Hall of Fame President and Chief Executive Officer David Baker, who gets the honor of officially informing selected players they are officially Hall of Famers.
• Ohio colleges were well represented on the teams’ rosters, with Ohio State leading the way with seven players: Dallas’ former Buckeyes: Receivers Johnnie Dixon and Noah Brown, running back Elliott, safety Malik Hooker and long snapper Jake McQuaide. Pittsburgh’s ex-Bucks: Quarterback Haskins and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. Small schools also filled out some of the roster spots. The Cowboys have defensive end Tarell Basham (Ohio University), cornerback Kyron Brown (Akron) and running back JaQuan Hardy (Tiffin). The Steelers have receivers Isaiah McKoy (Kent State) and Diontae Johnson (Toledo), kicker Sloman (Miami), linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III (Akron), tight end Kevin Rader (Youngstown State) and, of course, Roethlisberger (Miami).
• Charlie Ciolek, who plays football and basketball at Olmsted Falls High School, was recognized for his participation in the Build the Bridge program. The program is focused on educating and inspiring local high school football players and coaches by trying to build a connection between communities and schools from different socioeconomic demographics.
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I am on cleveland.com’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. And tune in at 7:05 a.m. Wednesdays for “Beer with Bona and Much, Much More” with Munch Bishop on 1350-AM The Gambler. Twitter: @mbona30.
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