Pitt is off to a 17-7 lead over West Virginia at halftime of the annual Backyard Brawl. Both teams have struggled with penalties and turnovers, with the opposition taking advantage.
Pitt elected to start the game on defense. The Pitt defense responded on that first series, holding the Mountaineers to a three-and-out. After the punt, Pitt started at its own 34.
Facing a third-and-short, quarterback Tino Sunseri rolled right and hit Ronald Jones for a gain of 22 to get the Panthers into Mountaineer territory. Zach Brown ran up the right side and gained 10 to get Pitt another first down. After Brown's run, the West Virginia defense held Pitt after three plays. Kevin Harper came on for a 38-yard attempt, but the kick was wide right. The drive, however, was kept alive thanks to an illegal block by West Virginia on the field goal try. That gave Pitt an automatic first down. Sunseri scrambled to get to the 4, but the West Virginia defense held again. Pitt almost got another gift—a personal foul on Brodrick Jenkins. Unfortunately, Devin Street also got caught up, which drew an offsetting penalty.
Pitt then came out with the I-formation, attempting to go for it on fourth down. It looked like Pitt was only going to try to draw the West Virginia defense offsides. They didn't succeed with their attempt, which forced the Panthers to waste a timeout. After the timeout, West Virginia did jump offsides—but by their own fault, not Pitt trying to draw them. The penalty brought Pitt closer to first down, just a few inches short of the sticks. Sunseri tried to run it up the middle. Initially, it looked like the West Virginia defense held, but the officials ruled that the ball had crossed the first down marker. Brown took it in from a yard out on the next play, giving Pitt an early 7-0 lead. Though Pitt came up with a few big plays on the opening series, the West Virginia penalties helped them out in crucial points, which helped them get the seven points on the board.
The two teams traded punts, before Pitt came out for its third series of the game. On a 52-yard scoring drive that lasted just five plays, Isaac Bennett ran it in from six yards out to give Pitt a 14-0 lead with 2:14 left in the first quarter. The drive was keyed by big passing plays to Devin Street and Hubie Graham. Street caught a pass over the middle, then scrambled after the catch to get Pitt 20 yards. Graham had a 14-yard reception, and was chased out of bounds at the West Virginia 10. Bennett scored two plays later, stunning the West Virginia crowd.
Pitt started the second quarter on offense, and although they got into West Virginia territory for a third time, they were forced to punt. This time, after Sunseri scrambled for about a 20-yard gain, Pitt was called for a hold, negating the play. Facing a third-and-24, Sunseri was rushed into throwing the ball at the ground. Street was the closest receiver in the vicinity. Though the Mountaineers had made some stops earlier in the game on third down—some that came with penalties—when they forced Pitt to punt, it was a major victory for the defense, who had its team in a 14-0 hole.
Pitt forced its second three-and-out on the West Virginia offense. Antwuan Reed deflected a pass on third down. He almost came up with the interception, but his body was moving with the intended target, which kept him from making the pick. West Virginia punted. The Mountaineers got a little bit of a break when Corey Davis was flagged for a personal foul on the punt. Pitt was forced to start its next series at its own 10. Though they got positive yardage, Brown came up a yard short on the third down play, forcing the Panthers to punt.
West Virginia answered as Geno Smith connected with Stedman Bailey for a 63-yard touchdown pass. The Mountaineers were still riding momentum from their previous stop on the Pitt offense. That drive, of course, was aided by a Pitt holding penalty. The Panthers committed a personal foul penalty on that ensuing punt. Though West Virginia wasn't converting Pitt penalties into points, those two penalties indirectly affected things in the form of momentum. Still reeling off that initial holding penalty, where a Sunseri scramble turned into a 3rd-and-24 for Pitt, they capitalized with the scoring strike from Smith to Bailey.
Things continued to snowball for Pitt. Sunseri was sacked for the first time all game on the next series. Jorge Wright broke free up the middle, forcing a 3rd-and-18 for the Panthers. Bennett ran for a short gain, forcing the Panthers to punt.
However, on the ensuing punt, Andrew Taglianetti recovered a West Virginia fumble, giving the Panthers the ball at the West Virginia 33. It seemed like West Virginia was gaining some momentum back. Instead of a penalty killing their momentum, this time it was an actual turnover. Taglianetti had been in on two other plays—one where he was blocked into the West Virginia return man, stopping the ball carrier at the initial point of the ball. He also stopped returner Tavon Austin for no gain on another punt. In fact, West Virginia had four punt return attempts for a total of seven yards in the first half. Taglianetti was in on three of those stops. Entering the game, West Virginia was averaging 13.2 yards per punt return.
Sunseri completed a 12-yarder to Street on the first play of the drive, but Pitt could not convert a first down after that. Harper did connect this time on a 31-yard field goal attempt. The Panthers led 17-7 with 2:53 left in the half.
After forcing the Mountaineers to punt again, Pitt took over at their own 27 with less than a minute to play in the first half. After Brown rushed for a gain of 20 yards, Sunseri threw his first interception of the game. West Virginia took over at the Pitt 47. The Pitt defense answered the call, as Ejuan Price and Brandon Lindsey came up with sacks, as the first half ended.
Sunseri completed 7-of-11 passes for 87 yards in the first half for 87 yards and an interception. Zach Brown leads all rushers in the game with 15 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown. Max Gruder leads the Pitt defense with five tackles. In addition to Lindsey and Price who each had one sack, Buddy Jackson and Greg Williams combined for Pitt's other sack. Pitt has converted all three of its red zone opportunities. West Virginia is 0-for-6 on third down.