Two years after getting knocked from BCS championship-game contention, West Virginia turned the tables on No. 8 Pitt and stopped the Panthers 19-16 Friday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Pittsburgh, now 9-2, can still win the Big East title and BCS bowl bid that goes with it by beating Cincinnati Dec. 5 at Heinz Field. However, the Panthers bowl situation is murky if they don't win next week after a loss to WVU (8-3) in the 102nd Backyard Brawl.
The Panthers tied the score at 16-16 with a three-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 50-yard scoring toss from quarterback Bill Stull to wideout Jonathan Baldwin with 2:54 remaining. However, WVU needed 10 plays to get from its 32 to the Pitt 26 where place-kicker Tyler Bitancurt boomed a 43-yard game-winning field goal as time ran out.
"When you lose the turnover battle by two and get penalties like we had tonight, it's tough to win a football game anywhere let alone on the road against a good football team,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I thought that our guys came out ready to play.
"Defensively, we gave up the one play, and we missed a couple tackles on it. Offensively, we just did not execute the way that we had, for the most part, all year long. (But) we've got high-character kids (that) are highly-motivated. So, we'll turn the page on this one in a hurry and get ready for Cincinnati.''
Stull probably had his worst game this season, completing 16 of 30 passes for 179 yards and the one touchdown to Baldwin. But he also threw two interceptions and generally was off more than he was on. Stull also was sacked once and just never got in a rhythm, which is the best way to describe the Pitt offense as a whole.
"I'm very surprised with the way that we played on offense, but I take full credit for that,'' Stull said. "It's tough to win games when you lose the turnover battle like we did tonight. I wouldn't say that I rushed anything, but the timing and rhythm was kind of off for our offense.''
Pitt actually trailed 16-6 into the fourth quarter, as WVU tailback Noel Devine ripped off an 88-yard scoring run to go with three Bitancurt field goal. But the Panthers battled back. Dan Hutchins kicked a 36-yard field goal for Pitt, and then Stull hit Baldwin for the big play.
But the Panthers had a chance to force overtime with a defensive stand and couldn't do it. On a fourth-and-one play from the Pitt 36, Devine slammed into the line. Pitt believed it stopped him for no gain, but a generous spot and measurement revealed a first down at the 35. Two more runs for nine yards got the ball to the 26, and a timeout was called for Bitancurt's game-winner.
"I thought for sure that we had the spot, but that comes down to a ref's decision,'' Pitt sixth-year senior linebacker Adam Gunn said. "That's the toughest call, coming from the outside line that, but that's the way it works. And you have to respect that.''
Pitt's defense was spectacular in the first half, and it was a good thing, too, because the Panthers were horrendous offensively. Pitt gained just 98 total yards in the first half, including 40 by freshman tailback Dion Lewis on 10 carries. Lewis finished with 155 yards on 26 carries to set the Big East rushing record that Pitt's LeSean McCoy set in 2007 at 1,328 yards. Lewis now has 1.446 yards with one game remaining in his freshman season.
Pitt's defense twice stopped the Mountaineers on fourth down during a 3-3 first half. WVU had a first down at the 10 late in the first quarter and had third down at the 3, but ended up at the 11 on a fourth-down sack by Gus Mustakas. WVU also had a first down at the 29, but only advanced to the 27 on four downs.
The Panthers offense got rolling a bit after that second stop, as Stull connected with Baldwin for 19 yards on two occasions. After a short Lewis run got a first down at the 21, another shot run in between two incomplete Stull tosses forced a 37-yard field goal by Hutchins. He also missed from 46 yards earlier in the game and was way short on a 53-yarder late in the third quarter.
Also in that third quarter, Bitancurt made a 44-yard field goal to give the Mountaineers a 6-3 lead. Hutchins tied the score with a 30-yarder.
A poorly thrown Stull interception with about a minute remaining in the first half gave the Mountaineers great field position at the Pitt 40. WVU converted two third downs, and it had a first-and-goal at the 1. However, a false start aided Pitt, and the Mountaineers were forced to kick a 20-yard field goal to tie the score.
West Virginia 19, Pitt 16
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