Crystal Ball 2005 - Pitt

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – In the 98th rendition of the Backyard Brawl – the first ever to be played on Thanksgiving – the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University went into double overtime before a sellout crowd of 61,776 fans who braved temperatures in the mid-twenties and a nationwide television audience to witness one of the most exciting games ever played between the two old rivals.

Pitt senior quarterback Tyler Palko completed 24 of 39 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Panthers. Palko's favorite target was split end Greg Lee who finished with eight receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. Jason Gwaltney, WVU's sensational freshman running back, led the Mountaineers with 156 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown, while his running mate Pernell Williams added 86 yards on 15 carries. Mountaineer quarterback Adam Bednarik completed 16 of his 31 attempts for 162 yards and a touchdown. West Virginia held a slight edge in total yardage at 423-411 and time of possession was also nearly equal at 32:34 to 28:26.

Neither team could generate much offense early in the contest, as both teams failed to cross midfield during a scoreless first quarter. West Virginia managed to move to its own 48-yard line on its second possession, but that drive stalled when fullback Owen Schmitt was stopped at the line of scrimmage on third down and inches to go, ending the series and forcing a punt. The Mountaineers suffered several first quarter penalties that bogged its offense down, one a costly holding penalty that nullified a long completion from Bednarik to freshman Darius Reynaud that would have given West Virginia a first down at the Pitt 28-yard line.

On its first possession of the second quarter the Panthers got the game's first big break. Starting from their own 32-yard line, Palko led the Pennsylvanians to the WVU 39 via completions to split end Greg Lee and flanker Joe DelSardo. On second down from the 37, Palko lofted a long pass down the WVU sideline toward Pitt split end Terrell Allen. Mountaineer cornerback Anthony Mims had Allen blanketed and tipped the ball away, but officials ruled that Mims made contact before the ball arrived, giving Pitt a first down at the WVU seven. Two plays later Palko found tight end Erik Gill in the middle of the end zone from five yards away to give the visitors a 7-0 lead with 11:23 left in the opening half.

Pitt's score seemed to awaken the lethargic WVU offense, as the Mountaineers began to pick up yardage as they had all season long – on the ground. Gwaltney, the overwhelming favorite to capture Big East Newcomer of theYear honors and WVU's leading rusher all season, began to find holes in the Pittsburgh defense. Gwaltney picked up 13 yards on a second down carry from the WVU 31, then two plays later added a gallop of 16 yards to the Pitt 36. A Bednarik completion to wideout Rayshawn Bolden put WVU at the Pitt 22. From there, it was all Gwaltney, as the superb freshman ran five straight times, the last a toss sweep around the left side of the Pitt defense into the end zone from six yards out.. The march tied the game at 7-7 with 7:42 left before halftime.

Pitt picked up right where it left off on its next possession. Starting from the 30-yard line Palko went to the air, hitting Gill for a gain of eleven, then split end Kelvin Chandler for 14. Senior tailback Raymond Kirkley picked up nine yards, then another Palko completion to Lee added twelve more yards. West Virginia's Johnny Dingle fought his way through Pitt's pass protection and nailed Palko for a sack and a loss of nine yards, but Palko responded by hitting Allen for a gain of 17. Kirkley picked up the first down with a carry of three yards on third and two and Pitt had first and goal from the WVU six. At that point, however, the Mountaineers produced an old-fashioned goal line stand.

A first down carry by Pitt's hybrid tailback/fullback Tim Murphy moved the ball to the two and a Kirkley carry moved the ball a yard closer. On third down, Pitt again went to Kirkley, but the Mountaineer defense stuffed the Panther tailback for no gain, bringing up fourth down. After a timeout, Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt elected to go to the air. On a short drop, Palko fired a pass across the middle of the end zone intended for Gill, but WVU linebacker Bobby Hathaway batted the pass into the air and out of the back of the end zone. The Mountaineer defense ran off the field to a thunderous ovation from the WVU faithful.

The West Virginia offense could not capitalize on the momentum provided by the defense as the home team went three and out. Pitt also failed to move the ball on its final first half possession and the two squads entered their respective locker rooms with the score tied at seven.

Having deferred to start the game, West Virginia took the second half kick-off and began moving the ball. Going to a three-back set consisting of Gwaltney, Schmitt and sophomore back Pernell Williams, the Mountaineers churned out 76 yards – all of them on the ground – to take the lead. Of the 76 yards, Gwaltney gained 36, Williams 33 and Schmitt seven as WVU pounded out the 11-play march to paydirt. Williams scored the touchdown from four yards out, giving WVU its first lead of the night at 14-7.

The Pittsburgh offense also got untracked early in the second half as Palko continued to hit his receiving targets. Kirkley and Murphy delivered on two key third down situations on Pitt's initial second half possession, as the Panthers mounted and eight play drive to tie the score at 14. Palko completed two passes to Lee, two to DelSardo, one to Allen and one to junior college transfer Jason Gaffney for a total of 51 yards on the scoring sortie, but the touchdown came on a three-yard carry by senior tailback Marcus Furman.

West Virginia then got a big play from its special teams. Antonio Lewis took the Panther kickoff WVU six-yard line and veered to his right, then to his left and found a seam in the Pitt coverage scheme. Racing down the Pitt sideline, Lewis was finally shoved out of bounds at the Pitt 32.

From there, the Mountaineers returned to the power running game that had served them well on their opening series of the second half, and again enjoyed success. Williams was the key performer on the short scoring drive as he accounted for 26 of the 32 yards to the end zone. Williams' key run was a second down scamper for 13 yards, giving WVU first and goal at the eight-yard line. Williams capped the drive with a dive over the line from two yards out which seesawed WVU back into the lead at 21-14 with 6:37 left in the third quarter.

The Mountaineer defense then held Pitt to three downs and a punt as the huge Mountaineer Field crowd sensed that their team was ready to take control of the game. The next play proved otherwise, as Mims was hit shortly after receiving the punt at the WVU 34 and fumbled. Pitt strong safety Sam Bryant recovered for the Panthers at the WVU 31 and from that spot the visitors wasted little time tying the score again. After a short gain by Kirkley, Palko dropped back and found Lee in single coverage down the Pitt sideline. The 6'-2" Lee outleaped WVU's 5'-11" cornerback Dee McCann and made an acrobatic catch as he fell across the goal line. The 29-yard touchdown pass tied the score at 21 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.

West Virginia changed gears and began passing the ball on its first possession of the fourth quarter, but the change in tactics still produced results. Bednarik spotted converted quarterback Dewayne Thompson for a gain of nine yards, then hit tight end Josh Bailey for a pickup of seven. A Gwaltney gain of eight yards put the ball on the WVU 47, from where Bednarik completed a short pass to slot receiver Jason Colson that turned into a big gain. Colson followed a key block by Bolden down the WVU sideline to the Pitt 24-yard line, but from there the drive sputtered. Freshman kicker Pat McAfee, came on to split the uprights from the 25-yard line and give West Virginia a 24-21 lead with 9:07 remaining in the game.

Pitt then created a special team highlight of its own, albeit with some trickery. Taking Colby James' kick-off at his own five-yard line, Furman headed upfield, then stopped and threw across the field to Kirkley. The risky lateral caught the WVU coverage team off-guard, and Kirkley dashed down the Pitt sideline to the WVU 22, where he was finally knocked out of bounds by James, whose tackle prevented a sure touchdown. The Pitt offense wasted no time in taking advantage of the play, as Palko hit Lee on a crossing pattern to the WVU four-yard line. Kirkley went in two plays later for a 28-24 Pitt advantage with 8:03 remaining in the game.

Starting from its own 34, the Mountaineer offensive line began to wear down the Pitt defensive front. Gwaltney ripped off gains of five, six and nine yards, sandwiched around Williams pick-ups of four and seven yards, respectively. Sensing that the opposing defense was anticipating yet another WVU rushing attempt, Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez called for a pass. From the Pitt 34, Bednarik dropped back and saw that Myles had gotten behind Pitt's freshman cornerback Darrelle Revis. Bednarik lofted the ball perfectly into Myles' outstretched arms, and the Mountaineer senior outran Revis and closing safety Tyrone Gilliard into the end zone for a 31-28 WVU lead with 5:16 remaining.

Calmly directing the Pitt offense, Palko engineering a Pitt march that tied the score at 31. From the Pitt 32, Palko hit Lee for thirteen yards, Kirkley found a hole and throttled forward for eleven yards, then Palko hit Murphy out of the backfield on a swing pass for seven, moving the Panthers to the WVU 34. Palko then was sacked by WVU's Warren Young for a loss of eight yards. However, Palko made up the deficit, by hitting Allen for a gain on 19 yards and a first down at the WVU 23. WVU's defense then rose to the occasion to limit Pitt to just three yards on as many plays, and Cummings came on to boot a 37-yard field goal for another tie at 31 with 3:23 left.

Starting at its own 27, West Virginia picked up a lone first down but had to surrender the football to the Panthers with 1:42 remaining, as Scott Kozlowksi's punt rolled out of bounds at the Pitt 18-yard line.

Palko then began to move the Panthers once again. The senior quarterback found Lee yet again for twelve yards to the 30. Two incompletions set up a key third down situation. With plenty of time to throw, Palko found Gill across the middle for a gain of 19 to the 49. Another pair of incompletions set up another third down scenario and again Palko delivered for the Panthers as he found Chandler for a gain of eleven to the WVU 38 with 1:01 left. After an incompletion, Palko found Murphy out of the backfield for a gain of eight to the 30. On third down, Palko's pass to Lee was overthrown, bringing up fourth and two from the 30. Pittsburgh brought on Cummings to attempt a 47-yard field goal to win the game. After two WVU timeouts to ice him, Cummings' attempt to win the game was just wide to the left with 0:53 left.

West Virginia took over with time left for a field goal attempt of its own, but attempted passes to Bolden, Vaughan Rivers and Thompson, were all incomplete. With 0:34 left, Kozlowksi avoided the oncoming Panther punt block attempt, kicking the ball out of bounds at the Pitt 28. Palko managed to complete one pass to Lee for 16 yards, but failed to complete four of his last five throws in regulation, sending the game into overtime tied at 31.

West Virginia won the toss and elected to give Pitt the ball to start the first overtime. Palko came out firing, hitting Allen for a gain of eleven to the WVU 14. Furman ran the ball to the eleven, then Palko misfired twice into the end zone, the last throw nearly connecting with Lee for a touchdown. Pitt settled for a Cummings field goal to make the score 34-31 Pittsburgh.

West Virginia began its first overtime possession by handing off to the workhorse Gwaltney three straight times, with the tailback picking up a first down at the Pitt 13. On first down, Bednarik tried a pass to Bailey in the end zone that was batted into the air. Gilliard just missed corralling the errant pass for a game-winning interception, and the near miss seemed to rattle the WVU offense. On second down, a bad exchange between Gwaltney and Bednarik resulted in a loss of two, and a third down Bednarik pass attempt sailed over Bolden in the back of the end zone. McAfee, faced with another clutch kick, nailed it to tie the game at 34 and bring on a second overtime.

Pittsburgh started the second extra period by running the ball. Furman twisted through the tiring WVU defense for a pick-up of seven, followed by a Kirkley ramble for six to the WVU 12. A Palko scramble netted two yards, then Palko hit Gill across the middle to the one. On first down Palko tried a quarterback sneak and was ruled short of the goal line, but Kirkley's second down attempt punched through the WVU line to score the touchdown. The Panthers converted the extra point and led by seven.

West Virginia responded by beginning its second overtime possession with a pass to Bolden for a gain of four yards to the 21. On second down, Gwaltney picked up three to set up third and three. On third down, a Gwaltney sweep was snuffed by Pitt defensive end Dan Stephens for a gain of just one, bringing up fourth and two. On the play, Stephens made a diving tackle to trip up Gwaltney, who appeared as if he might elude Stephens and trot into the end zone. After a timeout, West Virginia lined up in a three back set with two fullbacks, Schmitt and Justin Dziak. Attempting to plow the row for Gwaltney with its two fullbacks, Pitt's defense swarmed to the freshman ball carrier and stopped Gwaltney inches short of a first down.

"This was everything a Pitt-West Virginia game ought to be," said first year head coach Dave Wannstedt. "There were great plays on both sides and neither team deserved to lose a game like this," continued the first year Pitt mentor. "This win gives us a chance at the BCS and we'll always take a win in Morgantown no matter how we get it. I give a ton of credit to coach Rodriguez and his staff for preparing their team as well as they did to play this game. We knew they'd stay with us tooth-and-nail and we thought it would come down to a big play here or there and it did. Danny's [Stephens] play against Gwaltney at the end was just huge for us. He [Gwaltney] turns the corner and he looked to have a clear path to the end zone. That may have been the play of the game for us."

"We just failed to make a couple of plays when we needed them," said a dejected Rich Rodriguez in the WVU locker room. "We knew we'd get Pitt's best shot and I think we were ready for them. I liked our intensity all night long. Nobody brought anything in here [locker room] – everyone left it all out there," said Rodriguez while gesturing toward the field. "I'm proud of our guys for how we kept our composure tonight. There were only a few penalties and we kept our cool when the game was on the line. We never lost our focus and had great effort all night long. We just came up a few inches short and that's the ballgame."

With the loss, WVU ended its regular season at 7-4 and is all but assured of a third place finish in the Big East conference at 4-3. West Virginia is likely headed to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina for the second time in four years. West Virginia lost to Virginia, 48-22, in the inaugural Charlotte bowl game (then called the Continental Tire Bowl) in 2002. The Mountaineers' likely opponent in Charlotte is the Wolfpack of North Carolina State.

PASSING – WVU Bednarik 16-31-162-1 PITT Palko 24-39-307-2

RUSHING – WVU Gwaltney 27-156-1 Williams 15-86-2 Bednarik 3-4 Schmitt 4-11 Colson 1-4 PITT Kirkley 12-59-2 Murphy 5-14 Furman 6-29-1 Palko 3-2

RECEIVING – WVU Bolden 4-33 Myles 1-34-1 Rivers 2-14 Reynaud 2-21 Thompson 1-9 McClintic 1-6 Colson 1-23 Williams 2-10 Gwaltney 1-5 Bailey 1-7 PITT Lee 8-121-1 DelSardo 4-35 Gill 3-48-1 Chandler 2-25 Allen 4-57 Gaffney 1-6 Murphy 2-15

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only. No criticism, direct or implied, is intended. The author assumes no responsibility for any errors or inconsistencies and has produced the series strictly for the enjoyment of Mountaineer football fans during the agonizing summer months without WVU football.

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