Pitt junior cornerback Jovani Chappel has struggled at times this year and he has had to endure plenty of criticism, not too mention that he lost his starting job to redshirt sophomore Ricky Gary.
But yesterday after Pitt's 19-15 win against West Virginia at Heinz Field, Chappel was all smiles because he made what might have been the biggest play of Pitt's season -- and the funny thing is it was a play he knew he was going to make before the ball was snapped.
West Virginia led, 15-7, and faced a third-and-10 from its own 16 with nine minutes to play. Rather than play it safe, run and punt, the Mountaineers attempted a pass and Pat White was intercepted by Chappel, who returned it 14 yards to the Mountaineers' 16. Two plays later, LeSean McCoy scored and that began Pitt's comeback.
Chappel said it was a great feeling to contribute in such a big way, but he gave credit to Pitt's coaching staff because they prepared the defense so well for the Mountaineers offense. He said it was the easiest interception he'll ever get.
"It definitely has been a rough season but sometimes things don't go your way so you have to keep fighting and keep the right attitude," Chappel said. "But making a play like that in a game like this is the kind of thing I'll never forget and a lot of people around here will never forget. We definitely prepared very well, it was a simple play and we worked on that all week so we knew what was going on as soon as they lined up.
"We worked on it all week, we knew when those two receivers were on the boundary, they were going to run a stop-corner and I read the stop route, I sunk under the other route and he threw it right to me, I don't think Pat White even saw me."
White said of the play, "[Chappel] bit on me. It was a bad read. A bad ball. I threw it right to him. Guess it looked like he was on my team, huh?"
Although the Panthers won, quarterback Bill Stull completed only 12 of 23 passes, threw two interceptions and fumbled. He also failed miserably on an attempted quarterback draw for the 2-point conversion after the Panthers' second touchdown.
Stull said that's what makes this version of the Panthers special -- they can overcome a bad day, even if it is by their quarterback.
"That's why it is a team game," Stull said. "The other 10 guys, when I'm playing a little poorly, the other guys stepped up and said don't worry about it, we'll get it next series.
"It so happened that we ran the ball every time on [the winning] series, but when it came down to it, our offensive line and our defense won the game for us."
This was a West Virginia defense that yielded just two touchdowns in its five previous second halves, just three in its previous seven third and fourth quarters combined. Never once did it fail to protect a lead in regulation this season. Until yesterday, when McCoy rumbled to two touchdowns in the final 8:07.
"We're not really a team that falls apart toward the end," said Pat Lazear, who alternated with Najeh Goode -- the fifth different starter at Mountaineers middle linebacker this season. "We get stronger. It was surprising when they scored that last touchdown [with 52 seconds left]. Very surprising."
"We wanted the game in our hands," outside linebacker Mortty Ivy of Gateway added of a unit ranked No. 33 in Division I-A total defense. "There were some other things we should have done, other key plays we should have made. We just got to execute better."
McCoy gained 83 yards on 13 carries in the fourth quarter when, Ivy said, "we knew exactly what they were going to do."
West Virginia slotback Jock Sanders averaged 9.2 yards per carry -- four rushes for 37 yards, mostly crafted on a 29-yard jaunt -- and added two catches for 14 yards. He also nearly scored on screen to the Pitt 1 in the second quarter.
Said Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart, "It looked like we should have given the ball to Jock more in the running game."
Pat White had 236 total yards yesterday to become the Big East Conference's all-time total offense leader with 9,961. He passed Donovan McNabb, who played at Syracuse from 1995-98. ... Mountaineers tailback Noel Devine was held to a season-low 17 yards on 12 carries. ... Pitt's Dom DeCicco had a fourth-quarter interception, his team-leading third of the season. ... McCoy had two touchdowns, giving him 20 on the season and 35 in his career. ... Pitt holds a 61-37-3 advantage in the Backyard Brawl. Pitt holds a 5-4 edge in this decade. This is the first time since 2000 and 2001 that Pitt has won back-to-back games against West Virginia. ... Pitt's win means Cincinnati wins the Big East Confernce championship and earns a trip to the Bowl Championship Series regardless of what the Bearcats do today against Syracuse. ... West Virginia middle linebacker Anthony Leonard of McKeesport (foot) didn't start, and defensive linemen Doug Slavonic of Mt. Lebanon and Pat Liebig hardly played, though no precise reason was given.