MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Shawne Alston's 1-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter might have kept West Virginia's Big East Conference title hopes alive with a 21-20 win against rival Pitt in the 104th Backyard Brawl.
But it was West Virginia's defense -- often maligned for missed tackles, poor run defense, and an inability to create turnovers -- that came up huge Friday night.
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was sacked 10 times by game's end, including four times in the final series, clear evidence of a dominating night by the defensive line.
"The defense was the dominating performance tonight," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "And there's been times throughout this year they haven't been [dominating]. The defense just played tremendous ... but you can't win on one side of the ball. We've got to feed off each other."
The defense held Pitt to 296 yards -- 159 rushing and 137 passing.
The Panthers converted on four of 20 third downs, and twice were held to field goals.
"It reminded me of last year," said quarterback Geno Smith. "Tonight was a perfect example of a team victory."
Defensive tackle Julian Miller had a career-high four sacks.
"I never imagined that would happen," said Miller. "We were tired of being criticized. Their O-line said we were soft, and we took it personally. I thought we dominated them."
So did the full house at Mountaineer Field -- even if no one on the West Virginia sideline had an idea of how many sacks had been amassed.
"We had 10?" said defensive guru Jeff Casteel. "It was good to see them close down on the last series. The kids made plays tonight. We haven't always done that. We closed them out when we needed to. Lost to Louisville in the same situation."
The Mountaineers trailed, 17-7, at halftime because of some familiar problems. They struggled at the line of scrimmage, struggled to run to the ball and struggled on special teams.
But the running game came alive in the second half after netting minus-2 yards in the first half.
After giving up a field goal that stemmed from a muffed punt, the Mountaineers responded with a 60-yard scoring drive that included five running plays in seven snaps.
Alston muscled in his first score from the 8 with 8:59 left, cutting the Pitt lead to 20-14.
The team's kicking game improved in the second half as well, with Corey Smith pinning Pitt on the 2 once after replacing Mike Molinari.
Tyler Urban fumbled the ball after a reception for a first down with less than 10 minutes to go. But, when West Virginia got the ball back, they struck for a go-ahead, 83-yard drive.
West Virginia's winning drive included a 9-yard completion on fourth-and-6 from the Pitt 24.
It turned around a game that Pitt led until the 6:10 mark of the fourth quarter.
At the half, West Virginia had not converted a single third down in six tries and rushed for minus-2 net yards.
The team's lone first half score came on a highlight-reel catch and run by Stedman Bailey.
Pitt got on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run about six minutes into the game, capitalizing on a pair of penalties by the West Virginia defense.
West Virginia's second three-and-out led to Molinari's shanked punt that gave Pitt the ball on the 48.
The Panthers went five plays to score on a 6-yard run by Isaac Bennett that made it 14-0 and silenced the sellout crowd.
Bailey cut it to 14-7 with a 63-yard catch and run on which he stiff-armed a defender, cut back to the left and scored.
NOTES -- The Mountaineers set several school offensive records Friday night. Geno Smith established a single-season record for pass attempts (448) and also yards in a season (3,741). Tavon Austin set a single-season record for receptions (78). And Stedman Bailey set record for single-season receiving yards (1,117). ... Broderick Jenkins started at cornerback, replacing Pat Miller. ... The victory marked the first time since the early 1990s that West Virginia has strung together three consecutive wins in the series.