"Guys that needed to make plays did. We executed like we needed to," said senior linebacker Najee Goode.
WVU's defense was put in almost impossible situations throughout the game, as two special teams blunders on punts forced the defense right back on the field after forcing three-and-outs.
In both situations, though, the Mountaineers held Pitt to a field goal. That, in the end, would be the difference, as it gave WVU's offense just enough margin of error to score 21 points and win.
"They did a tremendous job, especially after turnovers," said head coach Dana Holgorsen. "Going right back out after they'd stopped them and holding them to field goals was huge."
In the second half, West Virginia was sensational. The defense was the best – by far – they had been all season.
Something clicked, and the Mountaineers finally lived up to much of the hype it received in the preseason. The defensive line ran rabid all over Pitt's iffy quarterback. The secondary covered the Panthers' speedy and nifty receivers with efficiency.
When it needed to step up the most, the Mountaineers forced five straight punts. Pitt didn't know what happened.
"I'm puzzled," said Pitt head coach Todd Graham.
That about says it all.
The Mountaineers' defense, after giving up its second touchdown in the first half, did not give up another touchdown in the next 13 drives. The longest of those drives was just 23 yards. In the second half, the Panthers had just 80 total yards.
On the final drive, after a booming punt from Corey Smith, West Virginia's defense let loose. The line, which had been so solid throughout the game, sacked Sunseri three times on the final four plays of the game. The last sack, by senior defensive end Bruce Irvin, knocked the ball out of Sunseri's grip and ended any chance of another play.
The defense stood tall and perhaps ended a 104-game rivalry the right way.
"It took a lot of bonding. From the early season, we weren't where we wanted to be, and we still aren't there," Goode said. "We take pride in this game, and we were able to make plays tonight."
West Virginia's much-maligned defense, the one that had been criticized throughout the middle of the season, played lights out in the team's biggest game of the season.
Some ripped WVU's defense under coordinator Jeff Casteel for being the 63rd scoring defense in the nation. Players like Irvin and sophomore cornerback Pat Miller were ragged on continuously for shaky play.
On Friday, West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense used all of those doubters – including Pittsburgh's offensive line – to earn this win.
"We got tired of being criticized," said senior defensive lineman Julian Miller. "They're o-line called our d-line soft. We took that personal. Those guys came out and thought they could overpower us. We wanted to come out and show that we were better than those guys. We went out there and just dominated."
There should be no doubters any longer.
This West Virginia defense showed up when it mattered most, against its fiercest of rivals, and provided the knock-out blow.
"When we play and beat Pitt, that leaves the band-aid on their butts for life, because we might not play them for a while," Goode said. "I'm thankful to be a part of it. It's huge."
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