Field-goal tries pay off despite WVU coach's promise

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart made himself a promise before last night's 102nd Backyard Brawl at Mountaineer Field.

He swore to himself -- as he usually likes to tell people "Cub and Boy Scout Honor" -- that he didn't show up in front of more than 56,000 people to let everything rest on the right leg of a kicker.

No, he'd rather attempt to ride senior quarterback Jarrett Brown's arm -- in what was certainly his last game at Mountaineer Field -- or the little, forever-churning legs of junior running back Noel Devine -- in what some have speculated was his last game at the stadium -- to a victory against Pitt.

"I wanted to win," Stewart said afterward. "I didn't want to kick field goals against the eighth-ranked team in the country. It just wasn't what we came here to do. We came here to win."

Stewart kept his promise -- but only for so long.

In the end, even Stewart, about the most honest, sincere and straightforward guy you'd ever want to meet, breaks a promise now and again.

Especially when he realized that kicking field goals was the way to end up beating the eighth-ranked team in the country.

On the second play of the second quarter, Stewart held steadfast to the promise he made, eschewing a field-goal attempt from 18 yards and instead going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

Quarterback Jarrett Brown was stuffed, getting swallowed up by Pitt's defensive front and keeping the game scoreless.

About seven minutes later, Stewart had a chance to break away from that self-promise and tell himself a little lie.

He wouldn't budge.

With the game still scoreless, West Virginia had driven the ball to the Pitt 28 and faced a fourth-and-9.

Bring on the field goal unit, try for what would have been a 45-yard field goal to break that 0-0 tie?

Not this guy. He had Cub and Boy Scout honor to uphold.

Both times -- certainly on the first one, which would have been even shorter than an extra point -- Stewart not only went against popular thinking, but against those who were chirping in his headset.

"I had the other coaches telling me to kick it," Stewart said. "I stuck with what I wanted to do. Like I said, I knew we didn't come here to kick field goals."

But just before halftime, Stewart broke the promise to himself.

And it turned out to be the best decision he would make all night -- and one, in the end, he made four times.

With 8.8 seconds left before halftime, Stewart let redshirt freshman Tyler Bitancurt attempt a 20-yard field goal.

The field goal was good to tie the score, 3-3.

Early in the third quarter, Stewart marched Bitancurt out there when a drive stalled again.

The field goal was good from 43 yards, putting West Virginia ahead, 6-3.

If it works twice, why not break that promise again, Bill?

And he did, summoning Bitancurt with about 10 minute left in the game to boot a 39-yard field goal to put a little distance -- some thought distance enough to ice the game -- between the Mountaineers and Pitt and give the home team a 16-6 lead.

After Pitt valiantly stormed back, Stewart would need to break that promise just one more time, and Bitancurt would need to make the biggest kick of his West Virginia career, kicking a 43-yarder as time expired to give the Mountaineers a 19-16 win.

What did Stewart say to Bitancurt before that last one?

"Not one word," Stewart said. "I stayed away from him."

In the end, that was a great decision. And even though it took awhile, so, too, was getting away from that promise he made to himself.


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


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