West Virginia, ranked second by the Associated Press and the BCS polls and No. 1 by USA Today, was assured a spot in the BCS title game with a win against Pittsburgh in the 100th Backyard Brawl.
But the visiting Panthers, a four-touchdown underdog, stunned WVU 13-9 Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The heroes for Pitt are many, but they start and end on defense. The Panthers scratched and clawed WVU's high-powered offense into submission, as quarterback Pat White was contained in the first half and eventually knocked from the game with a dislocated thumb on his right (nonthrowing) hand with about five minutes remaining. He returned with 6:08 left in the game, but couldn't get WVU into the end zone.
The Mountaineers only touchdown came with 1:43 remaining in the first half, as 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore Jarrett Brown bolted in from the 6. WVU actually appeared to be stopped on the play, but a personal foul penalty by sophomore defensive tackle Tommie Duhart gave the Mountaineers a first-and-goal situation.
Duhart made up for the gaff with a tremendous play midway through the fourth quarter. He sacked Brown, forced a fumble and recovered it. The play led to a short drive that Conor Lee capped with an 18-yard field goal.
Duhart, fifth-year senior end Joe Clermond, sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry and redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop keyed a stellar defensive performance by the Panthers. Clermond will be the biggest loss on defense for Pitt, as all the other key players are back next year.
Offensively, freshman quarterback Pat Bostick made enough second-half plays after a shaky first half, and frosh tailback LeSean McCoy outperformed WVU's talented running backs Steve Slaton and Noel Devine.
Bostick threw two interceptions and was erratic, for the most part, but he scored Pitt's only touchdown in the third quarter on surge from the 1. McCoy ran for 148 yards and had a touchdown called back due to a questionable holding call against wideout Oderick Turner. Turner also got a holding call when McCoy ran for a first down late in the game that would have sealed the win, but WVU got the ball back for one last chance.
That's when Pitt's defense was at its best. White, who was knocked from the game with a dislocated thumb on his right (nonthrowing) hand late in the first half, returned with 6:08 remaining and led WVU's final drive from near midfield. But he couldn't get the ball into the end zone.
So, after two straight Backyard Brawls when the Panthers were bawling at the end, this time there were tears of joy. Sure, there was no bowl game for the third straight year and not even a winning season, as Pitt finished at 5-7. But winning makes up for a lot, and the future looks amazingly bright now.
The Panthers graduate just 10 seniors, including starting defensive ends Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop, and safety Mike Phillips. On offense, the line is hit the hardest with tackles Jeff Otah and Mike McGlynn and center Chris Vangas on the way out as well. Tight end Darrell Strong also is gone.
But there are several starters returning from injury this season like defensive tackle Gus Mustakas, wideout Derek Kinder, tight end Nate Byham and quarterback Bill Stull. Pitt's two key offensive players, Bostick and McCoy, are just freshmen.
And another strong recruiting class can be secured now that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has had his contract extended three years through 2012. Where there was uncertainty, there is hope for the Panthers faithful.
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