Pitt fell to the West Virginia Mountaineers 21-20, in what will probably be remembered as another classic finish in this game's history of bizarre endings. Pitt got out to an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and even led 20-7 less than four minutes into the second half.
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.
Pitt was forced to punt after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half. Matt Yoklic punted to Tavon Austin, who fumbled the return. Again, Taglianetti was the lead man downfield creating a distraction, as linebacker Shane Gordon recovered the loose ball. Pitt wasn't able to move the ball, but Harper added his second field goal of the night—a 27-yarder. Pitt lead West Virginia 20-7, less than four minutes into the second half.
The Pitt defense showed some vulnerability on the following drive. The Mountaineers ground game had its biggest contribution of the night. Shawne Alston answered with an 8-yard touchdown, making it a 20-14 game with 8:59 left in the third quarter. It was a seven-play drive that went 60 yards, but the Mountaineers gained 44 yards on the ground on five rushes. The offensive line cleared some pretty big running lanes, and Pitt didn't help itself any with some missed tackles—especially on Alston's touchdown run.
The West Virginia defense forced Pitt to punt on its next series. Probably more impressive than holding the Pitt offense, the defense came up with a pair of sacks on second and third down. Prior to that, Pitt picked up 13 yards on three carries. The lack of a passing game with the addition of constant pressure from the West Virginia defense was putting Pitt in a hole. Pitt was still up 20-14.
After another three-and-out for the Pitt defense, Pitt took over at its own 1. The offense could not get anything. Sunseri attempted what would have been a 50-yard pass completion to Street. Street was not able to make the catch. The Panthers were able to eek out a few short-yardage gains, but the drive ended by another West Virginia sack. The Mountaineer defense continued to build momentum.
After the punt, West Virginia started off in pretty good field position—its own 48. It looked like they were heading for the end zone to take its first lead of the game. That was until Dana Holgorsen elected to go for it on a 4th-and-4 at the Pitt 30. Quarterback Smith hid Bailey for a short one-yard completion, before he was dropped by Pitt corner Buddy Jackson—making arguably the biggest play of his career. Pitt held the Mountaineers on downs, and took over on offense to close out the third quarter.
Pitt, however, couldn't mount much. After a nine-yard gain from Bennett on the first play of the drive, the offense could not amount another yard. They were forced to punt.
Again, West Virginia moved the ball well against the Pitt defense. They were forced to start on its own 10 yard-line, but quickly progressed its way up the field. The key play was a 19-yard run from Shawne Alston. The Mountaineers got into Pitt territory on a 19-yard completion from Smith to Tyler Urban. Urban, however, had the ball jarred loose by Todd Thomas. Taglianetti was there to pounce on the ball, giving the Panthers their second turnover of the night.
Unfortunately, the Pitt offense couldn't answer the call. They went three-and-out, and were forced to punt. They still led 20-14 with 9:27 left in the game.
West Virginia answered with an 11-play, 83-yard drive, and took the lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Alston. Facing a 4th-and-6 at the Pitt 24, Holgorsen was faced with the decision of whether or not to go for it on fourth down. He didn't hesitate in going for it, and quarterback Smith found Austin for a nine-yard completion to the Pitt 15. Alston ran it to the Pitt 4 on the next play for a gain of 11. Alston scored two plays later to give West Virginia its first lead of the game, 21-20, with 6:10 left.
Sunseri hit Bennett for a 12-yard completion to the Pitt 36, facing a 3rd-and-9 at its own 24. Bennett carried the ball three times for 11 yards on the drive. The Panthers were able to get into West Virginia territory. Facing a 3rd-and-5 at the Mountaineer 46, Bruce Irvin sacked Sunseri—the fifth time the Mountaineer defense got to the Pitt quarterback for the game. Pitt had to punt back to the Mountaineers, with 2:30 remaining in the game.
The Pitt defense held. Todd Graham used two timeouts, and Alston ran out of bounds on third down—short of the first down. The Mountaineer offensive series lasted just 20 seconds. After the punt, Pitt took over at its own 34. After Sunseri was sacked on the first play, he completed a pass to Street on the sideline for a gain of 12. Street landed hard on the play, and had to be helped off by the trainers. After a review, the catch was overturned—the reasoning that Street's knee touched out of bounds before his foot came down in bounds, on the reception.
The last drive was not meant to be for Pitt. Outside of an 11-yard reception by Isaac Bennett, Sunseri was sacked four times in seven plays on the final series. Sunseri was stripped of the ball on the final play of the game. The ball was recovered by Ryan Schlieper 18 yards, but way too short for a Pitt first down.
West Virginia improves to 8-3 overall, 4-2 in the Big East. Pitt falls to 5-6, 3-3 in the Big East.