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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- If memory serves him, there never has been a better moment than the final seconds of the 1975 Backyard Brawl for Steve Dunlap.
West Virginia's safeties and special-teams coach was a senior linebacker that year when placekicker Bill McKenzie lined up to boot a winning, 38-yard field goal against Pitt as time expired at old Mountaineer Field.
The moment was an instant classic: The announcer went wild. The stands emptied. Bedlam ensued.
On the eve of what could be the last Backyard Brawl for at least several years, a look back at some of the classics puts this heated rivalry game into context, but, for Dunlap, no Brawl topped that one.
- Matchup: Pitt (5-5, 3-2 Big East) at West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
- When: 7 p.m. Friday.
- TV: ESPN.
"No. That's by far the most exciting game ever. It was wild," said Dunlap. "It was just a tremendous struggle. It was 0-0 at halftime. They scored. We scored. They scored. We scored. Next thing you know, it's 14-14. Pass to the end of the game, kicked the field goal. It was just bedlam. It was nuts."
In recent history, however, the marquee game did not go West Virginia's way.
In 2007, the 4-7 Panthers knocked West Virginia out of contention for the national title game with a 13-9 win, leaving Mountaineer fans stunned.
Quarterback Pat White had missed much of the game with a bad thumb, and, by the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers had come up short twice deep in Pitt territory.
It stung for a long time.
"Yeah I've heard about a few. One in particular," said coach Dana Holgorsen, undoubtedly referring to 2007. "After being in one, you get some conversation about how that game reminded me of back in 1980 when this happened, or back in 1992 when that happened. ..."
There was the come-from-behind, 24-21 victory in 1983 on the back of quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who later won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants.
In 1994, Zach Abraham's 60-yard touchdown catch led the Mountaineers to a come-from-behind, 47-41 win at Pittsburgh.
What about 2003, when quarterback Rasheed Marshall and running back Quincy Wilson led the Mountaineers to a 52-31 win? Wilson scored four touchdowns, and the defense clamped down to allow just one second-half score to the 16th-ranked Panthers.
Some of the classics have been mentioned in preparation for Friday.
"The coaches have brought them up," said defensive tackle Julian Miller. "Being a senior, this is the Backyard Brawl, one of the biggest games for a West Virginia Mountaineer each season. You try to get that point across to the younger guys. The record goes out the window with this game."
The history is everywhere.
"The tradition and history of this game, I know it's very deep and one of the biggest rivalries in college football," said receiver Stedman Bailey, on the verge of the single-season record for West Virginia receiving yards. "I know it'll be a good game, a lot of energy flowing around. I'm looking forward to it."
Of course for the 2011 Mountaineers, none is more important than this one.
Their Big East title hopes hinge on winning out and other things shaking out in the jammed-up conference race. They are, at the very least, jockeying for bowl-game positioning.
"We're going to try and win these last two games and let fate handle itself," said quarterback Geno Smith. "The Backyard Brawl is so historical. It means a lot to the people of West Virginia to beat Pitt. So we're going to go out there and battle hard.
"There's some huge things at stake. ... But we're not going to worry about those things, just going to go out and go hard."
The Friday night game also marks the first chance in more than 15 years for West Virginia to put a streak of three wins in a row together in the series. The Mountaineers won the past two meetings, but have not won more than two since a streak of five from 1992-96.
"It's a big game, would be a big statement for West Virginia to keep that streak going," said linebacker Najee Goode. "I'd like to go out on top as a senior and, hopefully, continue to win the following week to go to a BCS bowl."
First Published November 24, 2011 12:00 am