West Virginia: WVU, Stewart hunt signature win

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown knows what a signature win in a coaching career looks like.

He saw one happen for Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt right there at Mountaineer Field.

Dec. 1, 2007 -- in a game in which Brown scored West Virginia's lone touchdown -- he and a stunned college football world, saw No. 2 West Virginia's national-championship hopes evaporate with a 13-9 loss against the Panthers.

The Backyard Brawl
GAME DAY

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Game data: Friday, 7 p.m., Mountaineer Field

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"For Dave Wannstedt, I think that game is what a lot of people think about when they think about him as Pitt's coach," Brown said. "For Dave Wannstedt, that was a big moment. And for us, man ..."

Brown stopped, searching for the right words. No more came. He just shook his head as he continued to walk down a corridor inside the team's facility. There was nothing more to be said.

Everyone with even a passing interest in either program understands the implications that night has had on both programs. That's what signature wins do -- they change the tide and shift the momentum of a program instantly.

Since the interim tag was taken off West Virginia coach Bill Stewart after he directed the Mountaineers to a win in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2, 2008 against Oklahoma, Stewart has yet to get that signature win.

Even as Stewart -- in games after that Fiesta Bowl -- has compiled a 16-7 record that includes the win against Auburn last season, the Meineke Car Care Bowl victory against North Carolina to end last season and the emotional win this season against Connecticut (playing its first game after the stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard) something has been missing.

There is no one game that everyone looks back on and says, "Oh, yes, that was his big-time win."

Tonight, against Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, the opportunity to post such a win is there.

It is the second time in two games Stewart has had the opportunity to produce that signature win, but his team fell short Nov. 13 in Cincinnati, when the Bearcats squeezed out a controversial, 24-21victory.

This one, though, because of the opponent, and because of what happened last time Pitt rolled down Interstate 79, might be sweeter.

"For coach, coming into this game as an underdog, I just can't imagine how he feels," Brown said. "This would be really big for him, to get a signature win against the rival? That would be huge.

"I don't think people understand, the people who aren't in our program, I don't think they understand how much this win would mean to him."

When signature wins were brought up, Stewart was asked what a victory against Pitt would mean to him personally. He gave a typical Bill Stewart answer.

"It would be win No. 8 ... . It would be a nice win over Pitt," Stewart said, keeping with his way of never making it about him and maintaining an even-keel approach.

But Stewart, uncomfortable speaking about himself, was pressed a little more.

"I don't get too caught up, because, if you do, then people will see the ups and downs and the highs and lows; I try to stay steady," he said. "I learned that from [former North Carolina coach] Dick Crum and from my father, who was the most mild-mannered gentleman I've ever met in my life. I never heard my dad swear. He taught me how you are supposed to do things. I have fallen short many times."

As was the case against Cincinnati, when his team almost knocked off a top-10 team. Now, they must face another one.

"I tell the team something every day," Stewart said. "You treat every day as if it were a precious jewel, because you know not what tomorrow brings."

If everything goes exactly the way Stewart wants tonight, tomorrow will bring a day in which he wakes up as the owner of a signature win.


Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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