Mountaineers edge Pitt in possibly final Backyard Brawl, 21-20
Pitt's Isaac Bennett scores a touchdown against West Virginia in the first quarter last night at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
Pitt's Myles Caragein forces West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to toss the ball away in the first quarter last night at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
A fan shows her support for continuing the longrunning Backyard Brawl last night.
Share with others:
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There plenty of reason to believe that the 104th Backyard Brawl Friday between Pitt and West Virginia might be the last game in the series for a while because both teams are leaving the Big East Conference and headed for other leagues.
If that's the case, then this latest edition was a good summary of the series as it had everything a good rivalry game needs -- bruising defenses, a little bit of nastiness, some big plays -- and of course, one team making a big play at the end to seal victory.
That big play was made by West Virginia's Najee Goode, whose sack of Tino Sunseri with 27 seconds left ended the Panthers' final hopes as the Mountaineers held on for a hard-fought, 21-20 victory before a crowd of 60,932 at Mountaineer Field.
That sack sealed the deal, but the Mountaineers had 10 in the game, nine of which came in the Panthers' final 25 plays from scrimmage.
The sack brigade was led by West Virginia defense tackle Julian Miller, who had a career-high four. The Mountaineers made a statement when Miller claimed Pitt's offensive line was talking trash before and during the game.
"We were tired of being criticized," Miller said. "Their offensive line said we were soft and we took it personally. I thought we dominated them."
Pitt coach Todd Graham was not happy about the number of sacks his team gave up, particularly since more than half of them when quarterback Tino Sunseri held on to the ball too long.
Sunseri seemingly had put the practice of holding the ball too long behind him at about midseason, but it showed up again Friday night at the most inopportune time. It was clear that Graham was extremely frustrated by Sunseri's refusal to throw the ball away -- especially on the final drive when the Panthers needed to score and had no timeouts.
"It is puzzling, head-scratching, I don't understand it," Graham said. "It is disappointing. ... All I can say about that is we aren't executing. It is a two-minute situation, practice it all the time, obviously can't take sacks and we sat there and just took one right after another.
"It is so frustrating not to be able to execute what we are trying to execute. We made too many mental errors down the stretch in a close game. I'm not going to go there [and blame Sunseri], the bottom line is we came up short."
Sunseri said on the final drive -- he was sacked four times on that drive -- he was holding the ball too long because he was trying to make plays down the field.
"We wanted to make sure we were pushing the ball down the field because we knew the clock was winding on us," said Sunseri, who also was penalized for intentional grounding on the final drive.
"I'm trying so hard to make a play back there, and trying to extend a play but sometimes the best thing to do is throw the ball away.
"On the one sack [Goode] got me, I should have thrown the ball away. I think I got a little flustered, but I need to know if I vacate the pocket I can throw the ball away and it is just an incomplete pass and the clock stops.
West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) is one step from winning at least a share of the Big East championship but will need help to earn the conference's Bowl Championship Series berth. Louisville (7-5, 5-2) already clinched its share of first place with a 34-24 victory against South Florida earlier in the day.
The Cardinals beat the Mountaineers earlier this year so the only way West Virginia can win the conference's BCS berth is in a multiway tie involving Cincinnati (7-3, 3-2). That would require the Bearcats to win their final two games against Syracuse and Connecticut.
As for the Panthers (5-6, 3-3), they are left with another close loss in a season of "what ifs," and they must beat Syracuse next Saturday at Heinz Field to become bowl-eligible.
That would leave the Panthers at 6-6 and they would need to hope there is a bowl spot available.
Pitt's defense played well enough to win and Graham said as much in his postgame news conference.
The Panthers held the Big East's top offense to 357 yards -- 122 under the Mountaineers average -- and they got four sacks of quarterback Geno Smith. Pitt also forced three turnovers, including two on special teams that left the offense with short fields.
But in both of those instances, the Mountaineers held strong and Pitt had to settle for field goals. The Panthers led 20-7 early in the third quarter and that left the door open for the Mountaineers to rally.
The Mountaineers finally cashed in midway through the third quarter when they drove 60 yards on six plays and pulled to within 20-14 on an 8-yard touchdown run by Shawne Alston.
West Virginia then took the lead for the first time with six minutes to play when it drove 83 yards in 11 plays, resulting a 1-yard run by Alston.
NOTES -- Lucas Nix (knee) returned to the lineup and played right guard. ... Pitt began the game in its nickle defense which meant nickleback/cornerback Buddy Jackson made his first career start. ... Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald had a sack on West Virginia's first series, for his 10th of the season. He became the fourth Panthers player since 2000 to record double-digit sacks in a season. ... Pitt tailback Zach Brown was knocked out of the game with a bruised sternum in the second quarter. The Panthers also lost wide receiver/wildcat quarterback Ronald Jones with a concussion in the first half.
First Published November 26, 2011 12:00 am