Mountaineers Muster Win at Heinz

West Virginia closed the season with its second straight road win over a ranked team with a 24-17 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The game was not without its drama, as Pitt drove from its own seven yard line with 3:54 remaining in the game, and finished with four frantic plays from the WVU 11 yard line with less than a minute to go.

Ben Collins broke up Rod Rutherford's pass with twelve seconds to go on fourth down in the endzone to set off a wild celebration by the Mountaineers in front of the second largest crowd to ever see a Pitt football game, announced at 66,731.

The Mountaineers started off the game with the ball, as Pitt won the toss and deferred. Phil Braxton had a nice return of the opening kickoff. But WVU couldn't move the ball, as the Mountaineers surprisingly started the game with two passes in their first three plays.

After a short Mountaineer punt, Pitt quickly responded with some tough running by Brandon Miree, who finished the day with 121 yards on 25 carries. Pitt finished off the six play, 63 yard, drive with a beautiful pass from Rod Rutherford to a wide open Larry Fitzgerald, who caught 11 balls for 159 yards and two touchdowns, deep over the middle for a 40 yard touchdown pass to put Pitt ahead at 7-0.

The Mountaineers turned to the running game on the next drive as Avon Cobourne, who finished with 104 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, toted the rock five times in the eight play 40 yard drive deep into Pitt territory. Travis Garvin ran for 16 yards on the first of two reverses he would run on the day, and was sprung by an excellent block by Rasheed Marshall to get the ball down to the Pitt 31. WVU was stopped on a Rasheed Marshall keeper on third down from the Pitt 24, but Todd James came in and nailed a perfect 42 field goal to cut the Pitt lead to 7-3 with 7:06 to go in the first quarter.

Pitt responded with a long drive behind the strong running of Myree and some timely running by Rutherford to move Pitt deep into Mountaineer real estate. Pitt tried its first pass of the drive on third and two from the WVU 32, but Rutherford's toss was low and behind Fitzgerald and incomplete. Pitt chose to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal into the Bermuda Triangle for kickers in Heinz Field, which is the open end of the stadium where winds swirl devishly off the river. On the play, Grant Wiley, who finished with seven tackles, sacked Rutherford for a two yard loss.

WVU wasted no time in responding, as two runs by Avon, one by Quincy, a 14 yard reverse to Garvin, who was again sprung by a pancake block by Marshall, and two more runs by Avon moved the ball to the Panther 24 yard line. Rasheed Marshall, a native of Pittsburgh, then introduced himself to his hometown crowd. On first and ten, Marshall carried for six yards. On second down he was stopped for a loss on a keeper up the middle, then executed an excellent QB draw from the Pitt 19 for a touchdown run. The play capped a nine play, 66 yard drive that put the Mountaineers into the lead at 10-7 as the first quarter clock reached double zeroes.

Pitt then marched 64 yards in 12 plays to get a 33 yard David Abdul field goal to tie the score at 10-10 with 10:01 remaining in the half. Larry Fitzgerald,Pitts outstanding wide receiver, started to make his presence felt with three catches on the drive. Pitt was stopped on third and six from the WVU 16 as Rutherford's pass to Fitzgerald fell incomplete.

After starting theirPitt next drive on their own 35 yard line after the kickoff went out of bounds, WVU again started its ground assault with a heavy dose of Cobourne. WVU was stuffed, however on a Rasheed Marshall keeper on an option on fourth and three from the Pitt 37. Pitt now had the momentum and the hometown crowd was back in the ballgame.

Brandon Miree ran for 23 yards on second and two from the Pitt 44 to get the ball quickly back into WVU territory, and it seemed like WVU might be on the ropes. But on second and nine from the WVU 32, Rutherford was forced out of the pocket by the West Virginia rush, and his pass intended for Fitzgerald was picked off by a leaping Angel Estrada, who also had nine tackles on the day. Estrada returned the pick ten yards to the WVU 36.

Things began to get interesting for the Mountaineers as Rasheed hit Phil Braxton for 29 yards on third and five on the ensuing drive, which advanced the ball to the Pitt 30. On the next play, WVU again went to the reverse, but this time it was Danny Embick who received the pitch. Instead of continuing around right end, Embick pulled up and threw back to a wide open Marshall for a 25 yard gain to the Pitt 5, asd the Mountaineer faithful roared their approval.

Avon ran off left tackle for three yards, and then scored from two yards out on a play that seemed to be stuffed in the middle at the one. Cobourne, who was never stopped, spun out of the pile and circled the right end for a score that left one side judge digging in the pile of players in the middle of the field to find the ball. The score put the Mountaineers up 17-10 with 1:45 to go in the half.

Things were not done for Pitt in the first half, however, as WVU was called for a 15-yard facemask on the kick return that gave Pitt the ball at the Panther 35 to start the drive. Rutherford completed two passes for 33 yards before his second down pass from the WVU 32 was picked off by Brian King at the goal line and returned to the WVU 25. From there WVU ran out the clock, content with a seven point halftime lead.

The first half produced some interesting statistics, as Pitt was not forced to punt, WVU punted only once, and Pitt turned the ball over twice. There were also only two penalties called on the two teams in the first half.

Pitt received the second half kickoff, and promptly marched methodically down the field on the WVU defense. Eight straight running plays and a two yard Rutherford pass to Fitzgerald gave the Panthers a first and ten from the WVU 30. Pitt ran three more times to the WVU 15, but on second and seven from the WVU 15 Rutherford's pitch to Miree on a toss sweep bounced off the helmet of Pitt fullback Lousaka Polite, and was recovered by Ben Collins at the 16 yard line.

After Avon was stopped for a one yard loss, and WVU was guilty of a five yard false start penalty, WVU wasted little time in taking advantage of the turnover as Marshall hit Phil Braxton with a 79 yard touchdown pass on third down and two to put the Mountaineers up 24-10 with 6:55 to go in the third quarter. On the play Marshall rolled to his left and seemed to be hemmed in by a Pitt defensive lineman. But he pump faked, got the defender in the air, smoothly sidestepped the rush and threw a perfect pass to Braxton, who never broke stride on his way to the endzone.

WVU really seemed to be in business when they forced Pitt to punt for the first time in the game with 4:10 to go in the third. Andy Lee's punt was downed at the WVU 12, and the Mountaineers had the ball and a two touchdown lead over the 17th ranked Panthers.

Five Mountaineer runs moved the ball out to the Mountaineer 42, but Marshall's pass to Derrick Smith was just off his fingertips, and the Mountaineers were forced to punt into the wind. Todd James then got off an eight yard punt to the 50 yard line, and Pitt was back in business.

Rutherford hit Fitzgerald for 19 yards on the first play, and after two Miree runs, Pitt was left with third and four as time expired in the third quarter. Rutherford threw an incomplete pass on third down, but on fourth and four from the WVU 25, Rutherford hit Fitzgerald for his second touchdown of the game to cut WVU's lead to 24-17.

Pitt then forced WVU into a three and out for the first time since the first drive of the game. But on Mark Fazzolari's short rolling punt, the ball bounded into Pitt's Bernard Lay and Ben Collins again was there to pick up the fumble, and WVU had the ball first and ten at the Pitt 34.

WVU couldn't capitalize, however, as Avon Cobourne was stopped for a one yard gain and Marshall threw two incompletions, including a fourth and six pass which was thrown late and batted down by Pitt's Tez Morris.

West Virginia's defense again rose to the occasion as the Mountaineers forced Pitt to punt after a seven play drive reached the Pitt 47. Lance Frazier hauled in the punt at the WVU 14 and returned it nine yards to the 23. Cobourne again got things started for the Mountaineers with four carries for 19 yards on the drive. Quincy Wilson then rushed off left end for four yards, and then tore off right tackle for 22 yards to get WVU down to the Pitt 32. However, Rasheed Marshall was sacked for a ten yard loss on second and ten and was held to no gain on a scramble on third and 20. Danny Embick again came into the game, but this time to punt. Embick's punt was downed at the Pitt seven yard line with 3:54 to go in the game, in what was easily the special teams play of the day for WVU.

Pitt was not ready to roll over, however, and methodically marched down field through the air with a nice mix of passes and runs that moved Pitt to the WVU 11 yard line with 50 seconds to go in the contest. Jermaine Thaxton sacked Rutherford for a three yard loss on first down and the game came down to three plays.

On second down, Rutherford threw incomplete to Kris Wilson. On third and 13 Rutherford threw to Fitzgerald who was breaking across the middle of the endzone, but the talented freshman couldn't come up with the ball. Pitt then called timeout with 19 seconds to go in the game to set up its final play.

West Virginia brought a blitz on fourth down, but Ben Collins, who was supposed to rush the passer, dropped back when he was cut off. Rutherford was forced out of the pocket to his right, and fired a pass toward the back of the end zone that Collins knocked down to preserve the win.

WVU finished the game with 231 yards rushing on the day and 379 yards of total offense. Pittsburgh outgained the Mountaineers, amassing 447 yards of their own, but came up short on the ever important scoreboard in the 95th edition of the Backyard Brawl.

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