MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The annual Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia is often hard-fought close game played between two rivals and won in the final few moments by a big play on offense or a heroic defensive stand.
And the game last night didn't break away from that blueprint as the two teams battled back and forth for more than 59 minutes before it all came down to one play, and it was made by a player -- West Virginia redshirt freshman kicker Tyler Bitancurt -- who most people probably had never heard of before the game.
Bitancurt kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to life West Virginia to an exciting 19-16 victory against the Panthers before a crowd of 56,173 at Mountaineer Field. It was his fourth field goal of the game -- he went 4 for 4 -- and his accuracy turned out to be the difference considering Pitt kicker Dan Hutchins missed two of his five field-goal attempts.
"I am real proud of our field-goal team," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said after the game. "I am proud of Cody Nutter, who snaps the ball and Jeremy Kash, who holds the ball. Kash was benched last season and I am proud of the way he came back ... this season.
"Most importantly, I am really proud of Tyler Bitancurt. I personally recruited him and that is special. That was a heck of a football game."
It is a huge win for West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) because it puts them in position to earn a Gator Bowl berth -- which is the Big East Conference's top bowl after the Bowl Championship Series game -- if they can win next Saturday at Rutgers. The Mountaineers are an attractive team to any bowl because they travel so well.
West Virginia also snapped a two-game losing streak to the Panthers and kept alive its streak of not losing three games in a row in the series since Pitt won seven consecutive games from 1976-82.
The loss does little to change Pitt's situation as the Panthers (9-2, 5-1) can still win the Big East Conference title and go to a BCS game with a victory against Cincinnati next Saturday at Heinz Field.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said that fact was at least some consolation for losing to the Mountaineers, but he acknowledged that the Panthers will have to play a much better game next week to have any chance of competing with, much less beating, the Bearcats.
"Our guys were not ready to play," Wannstedt said. "Defensively, we gave up the one play and missed a couple of tackles, and offensively we did not execute like we had all year long. We stopped ourselves a lot and we had some opportunities to make plays and didn't make them and turned the ball over a couple of times.
"I thought our guys fought back and our effort was good, but we weren't good enough. We'll turn the page in a hurry and get ready for Cincinnati. Our goal is to win the Big East championship, and we can accomplish that next week."
One thing the loss likely means is that the Panthers will be a tougher sell to the Gator Bowl -- and could up in Charlotte, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., or Toronto -- should they lose to the Bearcats.
Bitancurt's heroics aside, Wannstedt was right when he said the Panthers really didn't deserve to win as they were outplayed by the Mountaineers and made far too many mistakes to beat a good team on the road.
Pitt quarterback Bill Stull seemed to be off the mark all game and he threw two interceptions -- both of which led to Mountaineers points.
"I am very surprised [the offense didn't play a better game]," Stull said. "I take full credit for that on myself. It is tough to win games when you lose the turnover margin. I didn't feel like we were rushing things, I just thought the timing and rhythm was off all night. They rolled some coverage and they got me the one time on interceptions.
"It was just a matter of trying to battle back and do it the next thing. This is tough, it will be tough considering the type of game it is, it is our [seniors'] last Backyard Brawl."
The Panthers also had one drive stall because of a chop-blocking penalty by Jason Pinkston and they allowed the Mountaineers to drive 42 yards on 10 plays to set up the winning field goal.
One thing the Panthers did do well is fight back as they fell behind by 10 points -- 16-6 -- with 10:05 to play when Bitancurt kicked a 39-yard field goal.
But the Panthers pulled within 16-9 on a 36-yard field goal by Hutchins then tied the score with 2:54 to play on a 50-yard pass from Stull to Jonathan Baldwin.
It wasn't enough, however, as the Mountaineers took possession and won the game.
"When you win this game, it makes your season," Pitt linebacker Adam Gunn said. "We couldn't get it done. It hurts because [the defense] went out with a chance to win the game and when you don't get it done -- that's tough. All we can do is move on and next week make sure we get that stop."
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com . First Published November 28, 2009 5:00 AM